Reminds me of the old Simon and Garfunkel song, the one that goes its all happening at the zoo. There they ask “is the theatre really dead?” capturing the psuedo-intellectual chatter of the moment. Here the chatter is about the press release and its future.
It’s an old topic but one that continually gets revived. This answer, provided by a PR distribution service, clearly defends the relevance and importance of the press release. The whole argument here is contrasting the press release to advertising. Hmm, why do I feel like I am witnessing a discussion about why buggy whip brand is better?
I’ve written here a long while ago why I believe the press release is dead. But admittedly, I come primarily from the side of PR that is reactive rather than proactive–crisis communication and issue management rather than promotional. And I would say that there are probably limited circumstances where the traditional style press release may still be appropriate, I just have a harder and harder time thinking of those circumstances.
I will go so far as to say that the gut-level reaction of PR professionals to run out and produce a press release for either promotional or response purposes is potentially damaging. Why? It stops them from thinking through what their real job is, and prevents them from taking advantage of the huge benefits that internet-based communication now offers. Their real job is to inform, educate or influence people. It is not to keep a reporter occupied. The press release has worked in the past because the way you inform, educate and influence people, particularly larger groups of them, has been through the media–particularly the mass media.
Doesn’t that still hold true today? To some degree, but it is limited. If you focus first of all on the people who really matter, what I have called strategic relationships, you quickly find that in most cases informing masses of people is not really important or valued. In fact, perhaps the best way to inform the masses is by informing a smaller and more significant group who will do much of the informing of the rest for you.
You certainly see this in crisis communication. There are people whose opinion of you and/or your organization matter a great deal for your future. They may be your most important customers, key investors, analysts, members of Congress who sit on the allocation committee. Those people matter. In fact, the whole world may think one way about you, but if those people know the truth and think differently, you are going to be OK. Doesn’t it make sense to focus on them? And do they want a press release from you?
I think the same thing is true in promotional PR. Even if you are a massive consumer products company, a car manufacturer or a soda brand, there are some people more important to brand reputation, brand value and brand awareness than others. Can you identify them? Can you reach out and touch them? Do they want a press release from you?
OK, I’m sure those reading this will be able to come up with examples where press releases are the best thing in the situation. I can think of some of those as well, so I’m not going off the deep end here. But my point is that as long as the press release is the fall back position, the knee-jerk strategy, the only thing we know how to do it will be counter-productive to good PR.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Not every PR opportunity or requirement is a nail. Unfortunately, there are a lot of perfectly good PR people thinking the only thing they have is a hammer.