Falsely declared dead sometime in the mid-2010s, the press release continues to prove its worth and vitality, according to my colleague Sarah Grolnic-McClurg.
“The press release remains a useful and straightforward tool,” she asserts, contra the naysayers whose morbid declarations of its demise make flashy headlines in the PR world. “It gets a bad rap as a symbol of a bygone era, but it offers a widely recognized and user-friendly format for presenting new information.”
Press releases are, however, often misunderstood and misused, she allows. How so? I interviewed Sarah about common mistakes and best practices for using this classic tool.
If the press release is alive and well, why have so many declared it dead?
You can’t build a tool and expect it to run on its own; a hammer won’t hang your picture frame for you. The same is true for the press release. It is a tool for meeting a specific need and I often find that teams expect it to yield results without taking all the necessary steps.
What are some best practices for using press releases?
The most common mistake I see is over-investing in the first stage of a press release: writing the document. That’s about one-third of the process yet many people mistakenly think that after it’s written, posted to their website and run on a wire (for a hefty price), the job is done. That strategy may work for the Teslas and Apples of the world, but only because brands that are giants in their field get dedicated attention from reporters assigned to follow and share their news.
For most companies, crafting a well-written release is only step one. Step two is building a highly targeted media list of reporters who are likely to care about what you have to say. And step three is drafting a succinct, catchy and (ideally) individually tailored pitch before sending. If you don’t put in the effort to personally share your release once you’ve written it up, you can’t expect much.
The best time to use a press release is when you have a major piece of news to announce. This might include a big funding announcement, a new product or service, or new research findings. Press releases can also help you share news about collaborative efforts with other prestigious organizations.
That said, there’s a time and a place for writing a press release or company news blog post that you don’t send to reporters. At Thinkshift, we call this an “ornamental” release. It’s appropriate for milestones or other items that don’t rise to newsworthiness but can mark a company’s progress and be used later to showcase momentum. Communications teams should create these ornaments as efficiently as possible to conserve their PR budget for news that moves the needle or gains that elusive “mindshare” among target audiences.
What are some examples of success?
Large funding announcements are great fodder for press releases. In September 2022, Thinkshift wrote and distributed a press release announcing our client CNote’s Series A funding. The story ran in 12 news outlets including Axios and Fortune.
Another release for CNote announcing Apple’s investment of $25M on its platform gained 20 hits in outlets including American Banker and Fast Company. If your brand partners with another organization that has wide name recognition, press releases can help you gain traction in outlets that wouldn’t otherwise be interested. This is also true with research findings involving reputable names in your field.
Sometimes you can even squeeze some juice out of an ornamental release. When Thinkshift earned 2023 Top Impact Company recognition from Real Leaders, we sent out a press release to a brief and highly targeted list of outlets with a media and public relations focus and one editor responded positively with an opportunity: to write a contributed article about the impact space.
I once represented a company that sent a release about the organization’s anniversary that landed the client a top award in its industry.
You never know when a well-written press release will pique a reporter’s interest. But the converse is true as well: flood the plains with nothing burgers and you’re sure to lose your media audience. And don’t deplete your PR budget by writing releases that just sit on a website or run on a paid wire if you want to land earned media coverage.
Like most things in life and PR, it’s the right time, the right place and knowing your audience that matter.