Press releases are simple (some may say old-fashioned) tools for communicating news to the press. Just google 'Are press releases dead' and see how many conflicting opinions come up. There are hundreds of articles either claiming that press releases are dead, or that they're not. The loudest of these opinion-givers tend to come from the US.
Now I used to work the USA. (I've also worked in South Africa and the UK). Press releases in America make you want to reach for a spoon and gouge out your eyeballs. They are dry, stuffed with corporate speak and invariably include the phrase that someone high up in the company is 'delighted' about something. They are almost nonsensical to read. But they form part of a company's press office and SEO strategy. It's not surprising people are claiming that they're dead, when social media demands far more interesting, immediate and shareable content than a dry stuffy press release.
But it appears that google just gave press releases a new lease of life
According to this article by Reuters, Google has changed the way it selects search results, which means that company statements can go to the top of the list of news links shown in the 'In the News' section.
According to Reuters: 'Previously, only links to stories on approved news sites such as those of newspapers and TV stations appeared in this section of the main search page.'
The Google spokesperson is quoted as saying: 'The goal of search is to get users the right answer at any one time as quickly as possible -- that may mean returning an article from an established publisher or from a smaller niche publisher or indeed it might be a press release.'
They also confirmed that they are not getting paid for putting press releases at the top of the list. This change happened back in September but hasn't really been noticed until recent high profile announcements showed press releases at the top of the 'In the news' Google listings.
What does this mean for small businesses?
While this news may upset some publishers who could lose potential readers, for small businesses, it is brilliant news. If you can create a strong press release with good content about topical issues, there is nothing stopping your news appearing at the top of the Google news listings if you post it publicly either on a wire service or your website. This doesn't mean you should stop trying to get publications to cover your news or give up working with journalists. An external site running your news will boost your credibility massively. But this is a great way for small businesses to have their 'owned' news seen.
It means press releases can and should still be part of your PR strategy.
But as far as I'm concerned, even without this Google news, I've never believed press releases were dead.
I have always written press releases the way I was taught to - inverted pyramid with the five Ws and H in the opening paragraph. More importantly, I've written them as though actual human beings were reading them. You can still give facts without fluff while using interesting language, which is where the 'traditional' press release goes wrong.
To me, press releases convey the nub of a news story effectively. Sometimes they are used verbatim (good for search engines). Sometimes they merely serve as background and as a credibility builder when pitching a story idea to a journalist.
I think in the UK at least, they are still a relevant PR tool. A few weeks ago at a Meet the Media event, I asked the journalists there whether they felt press releases still had a place. The journalists running an online, blog-style title were less keen. They wanted content they could cut, paste, tweak and share fast. It needed to be written in a blog style, not a press release style. Makes sense.
But the print newspapers, freelancers writing for nationals and radio journalists - in other words, traditional media - all agreed that press releases were still very useful if they are written well.
So to sum up: Keep writing press releases. Keep writing them well. Keep using them wisely.
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