What PR agencies can learn from news organizations.
The hard drive of every PR pro is crammed full of them. The inbox of every reporter is groaning from them. Even as pundits predict their passing, the market for them in Google AdWords is competitive and costly.
What are they? News releases. Unloved but ubiquitous, the release dates back to the founding of our industry. Of course, that was in 1906, when you needed a full-length novel to capture the public’s attention. A few things have changed since then, yet the staple of our industry resists modernization. No wonder every year brings forth those declarations of death.
But the rumors are exaggerated. The news release may be dying, but like Charles Foster Kane’s Inquirer, it still has a lot of life left—especially if the SEC has any say in the matter.
In fact, we can resuscitate our old friend with a variety of tactical tweaks. The trick: we need to stop thinking like a flack and start thinking like a hack—specifically, like editors at today’s buzziest news outlets.
In February 2010, I wrote a blog post titled “Google News.” In November 2010, I revised it. Yet it took almost another year and a half to finish the thing, which appeared last week on Mashable. Since the text from 2012 doesn’t include the text from 2010, I figure I should publish the original for posterity.
Google’s announcement earlier this year threatening to pull its business from China stirred the proverbial hornet’s nest. Leaving aside the merits of what the company did, consider the way in which it broke this news.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, “Google’s vice president of public policy and communications, Rachel Whetstone, began crafting and revising a number of versions of a possible statement the company planned to release publicly.”
Pretty standard fare, right? There’s nothing special about your PR person drafting a statement. But this wasn’t your usual corporate spin. In fact, the statement wasn’t a statement; in its eventual form, it was a blog post.
Like an old shoe, the press release has been around forever. Every year seems to bring another proclamation that it’s on its last legs. While the rumors are exaggerated, they emerge from a stubborn truth: the press release is being eclipsed by digital alternatives that are more flexible, more interesting, and more relevant.
A milestone was reached in 2010, when Google made a major announcement not by press release but by blog post. Five years earlier, a company of Google’s stature would have issued a boilerplate statement on a newswire. Now, a Google executive was crafting a more thoughtful, even heartfelt narrative that was published on the Official Google Blog.
This shift in medium and message represented a new era in corporate communications. No longer does a traditional press release suffice to make news. News now needs to be conveyed in an empathetic tone and delivered in a user-friendly format.
The staple of public relations is the press release. It’s been around forever; follows generally agreed guidelines for format, content, and length; and still succeeds in its objective to publicize the item in question.
And yet, bound by stale conventions that suffocate originality and don’t play well with multimedia, the press release has become obsolete. It’s not that there’s no longer a need to announce big news formally. It’s that there’s a better way to do it than drafting 400 words of boilerplate.