News Releases vs. Press Releases

    August 14, 2007

My post on August 2 about a news release issued by the Adfero Group has prompted some discussion about some of the fundamentals of the social media release. Adfero’s “interactive” news release embraces some of the elements of the social media release, but retains the narrative style of traditional releases.

Adfero representatives offered well-thought-out arguments for rejecting the bullet-listed “Core News Facts” section of the social media release. In a comment to my post, Adfero’s Jeff Mascott wrote, “The best approach for a news release is still the narrative format –- it the easiest to read by reporters, bloggers and interested citizens alike.”

The rationale for the bullet approach comes directly from the Tom Foremski post that launched the social media release effort to begin with. Foremski wanted companies to “deconstruct the press release into special sections and tag the information so that as a publisher, I can pre-assemble some of the news story and make the information useful.”

The social media releases I have crafted have, in every instance, been paired with a traditional release (as in this example, but Adfero doesn’t like that approach, according to a comment from Chris Battle: “While I respect your idea of sending two news releases -– one with the narrative and one without -– our goal was to create a release that accomplishes our goals in one document.” Others have rejected the dual release concept simply because it takes too much time.

I respect the positions Adfero and others have taken on these issues. But I don’t buy ‘em. Communications shouldn’t be about consolidation. We should target the message to the audience (a term I use advisedly). I see three distinct audiences, each with unique needs:

  • Traditional media
  • Online media (including bloggers)
  • The general public

Let’s tackle the public/press issue first. Battle writes:

we are not writing solely for journalists. One of the things that makes the new media environment so much more productive is that organizations can issue their news releases directly to the public. The goal is go convince the mainstream media and the blogosphere to pick up the release and run a story about it, but it is not the only goal. Equally important is to deliver that information directly into the hands of target audiences in the public.

The first time I heard the idea that press releases need to accommodate both the media and the general public, it came up twice in one day. The first was a high-tech company that asserted the need to write releases that might be too technical for the average journalist because the release would be read by sophisticated IT types. The second was a telecommunications company that insisted it needed to dumb down its releases because Joe Beercan might wind up reading it on the web.

We need to make a distinction between press releases and news releases. A press release is targeted at the press and should be crafted to meet the needs of a reporter or editor. A news release is for general distribution to the public. While this is not the approach taken by many PR practitioners, it’s one that makes more and more sense.

As for the traditional vs. social media release, it’s important to remember that some publications don’t have the resources to turn a release into a story. Early in my career, I worked for both trade and public publications where I was one of two writers/editors. Much of the editorial was made up of press releases, run just as we got them. There are still a lot of outlets in that position. For them, a traditional release is the answer.

For online journalists and bloggers, however, a social media release—one that makes it easy to grab elements and insert them, whether they’re text or multimedia—is in order. The idea is to make the information easy to adapt to social media tools, like blogs and websites. And here, I have to return to Foremski’s original rant:

Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on…

Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Businesswire or PRnewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists.

This madness has to end. It is wasted time and effort by hundreds of thousands of professionals.

Formeski’s solution to the narrative approach (what Tom calls “topspin")—the solution embraced by the social media release working group: “Provide a brief description of what the announcement is, but leave the spin to the journalists. The journalists are going to go with their own spin on the story anyway, so why bother? Keep it straightforward rather than spintastic.”

And what of the time it takes to produce two or even three versions of a release, each targeted to the appropriate audience? I don’t buy that, either. Start with the traditional, narrative release, then use it as the basis for the others. It has never taken me more than an hour to create a social media release from a traditional release.

Finally, there’s the worry that the wrong audience will see the wrong release, given that any release will wind up in places like Yahoo’s finance site. But it’s easy to begin any release with a line like this:

This is a press release intended for use by the news media. A general news release can be found here and a social media release is available here.

As communicators working in an increasingly fragmented world, we should not strive to make one size fit all. We should target our messages for maximum effectiveness. If that means an extra hour or two to produce niche-focused versions of releases, then that’s what we should do.