The Museum of Public Relations considers the first press release to be a statement written by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1906, disclosing the events surrounding a train derailment. That statement spawned an industry.
For the next century, companies looking to build their public image regularly shared news via a press release, following set formats and processes. But in the internet age, company messages can be easily and directly communicated to customers via social media or a blog page.
So is there room in company marketing plans for a press release? The short answer is yes — a longer answer is, “in certain circumstances.” And those circumstances continue to evolve.
Improving your odds
Companies should consider putting out a press release when they want to communicate a detailed story — quotes by a respected industry expert, for example, or extensive technical information that’s intended for a specific audience. In such situations, the familiar format of a press release may attract an editor’s attention and improve the odds of media coverage.
Press releases are also useful for creating a company “resume.” New hires, product releases, quarterly statements and minor awards are important events in a company’s growth. Releases on such events can be used to populate a company’s media resource webpage and provide a one-stop shop for journalists.
These webpages have the added benefit of giving customers a quick primer on a company. Press releases housed on a company website make use of pull marketing (in which customers are taking the action and are drawn to company information) instead of push marketing (in which information is — as the name implies — pushed toward people). Pull marketing can be a very effective means of relating to customers.
Press releases also help broadcast straightforward messages with broad appeal, such as event-related announcements. Many editors still rely on press releases to convey information important to a wide base of the industry.
Tying in a PR campaign
Like press releases, earned media coverage — that is, third-party write-ups in newspapers or magazines — followed a familiar, established process for many years. Journalists would contact story sources directly and/or work with a company public relations representative.
Public relations, or PR, is the formal way in which organizations communicate with their public audiences. As a modern marketing strategy, PR is just as effective as it was in years past — and arguably more effective.
A good PR strategy represents planned or managed communication. It’s an inexpensive yet effective means of building a brand because, unlike advertising, PR is the only way to get a company’s name and story out in the marketplace without having to pay for the delivery of that message.
A feature article highlighting a company’s innovations expresses a third-party endorsement that simply cannot be purchased. However, since PR is not a paid-medium, there are no guarantees that an editor will pick up a story. To ensure success, the producers of PR must have a keen sense of news, strong writing skills and the ability to build relationships with editors.
Creating the content
Whether producing a press release or a PR article, a company must first identify the story it wants to tell and then determine what audience would have an interest in that story. A story should focus on unique projects, new products or a trend.
When developing a list of potential media contacts to pitch ideas to, it’s important to go beyond the obvious daily and weekly community papers. Media lists should include association newsletters and industry trades as well as market-specific publications. Increasingly, groups such as real estate firms, insurance brokers, financial consultants and civic organizations have their own newsletters or other publications. These can be a good place for companies to develop synergistic relationships with like-minded organizations.
How you communicate with an editor can be as important as what you communicate to that editor. Editors are like any other businessperson — they have deadlines, families, bosses and feelings. Therefore, they should be treated with the same respect as any other prospect.
Company representatives who make the effort to track down answers to questions, meet deadlines and respond quickly to messages will become trusted resources. Furthermore, most journalists know a little about a lot of things, so educating them is encouraged. Tying a company’s goods or services to a larger trend, such as energy efficiency or current design trends, will also build loyalty.
Finally, it’s important to note that purchasing an ad doesn’t give a company the right to demand editorial coverage. Most publications keep a strict distinction between purchased advertising and the editorial coverage their readers deserve.
Knowing when to use a given marketing tool is critical, especially with today’s fast pace of change. Companies can work with an experienced freelance writer or public relations expert to help them navigate these processes and deliver well-written articles or press releases that will find their way to the top of an editor’s inbox.