Death of the PR

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A century after the first press release was pushed out: has it become obsolete and ineffective? Or is the mainstay here to stay?

The press release was born out of a train wreck in AC, New Jersey in 1906.

A publicist persuaded the railroad company to publish a statement in the press about the causes and aftermath of the accident, initiating a practice of damage control and corporate crisis management through newspapers. The practice later evolved to cover any and all information an organization wished to make public and was widely successful as a quick, inexpensive and most importantly universal tool for entities to share information.

Whether it was to announce an event or the launch of a new product or service, an important addition to or departure from the organization, or to highlight an issue or manage a crisis, all you needed was to package your news in a press release format and push it out to the world. In the absence of other comprehensive communication tools, the press release offered a one-size-fits-all solution especially in boom years where companies were competing to be seen and had so much to share.

The press release was ubiquitous in the region and worldwide. It also became a popular search engine tool: When loaded with keywords, it drove traffic to the website, which in turn would improve its ranking.

A century on, news is sourced elsewhere and curated differently. The press release in its classic format became too static, too stale and its purpose too evasive as communications evolved passed its functionalities.

It first lost its technology hook, and unless its content is properly optimized, it no longer serves online searchability or ranking. Then, it was unseated by a constant news cycle that can be blasted in six different ways at any given moment. The customer is no longer king – his journey is – and the self-promotional, nonreciprocal press release cannot survive in times where brands are mandated by their customers to be open, communicative and reflective of their own values.

The most important feature of the classic press release that remains valid today is that it allows you, the owner of the information and/or the brand, to shape the narrative, instead of having others do it for you. But this too is challenged by a host of other instruments that are more efficient and more measurable, and companies as a result have critical decisions to make on how to roll out their strategies.

Numbers, figures and statistics are better visualized than verbalized and can be communicated using infographs and motion graphics; touchy, sensitive and otherwise “emotional” topics are better served by videos and graphics, while blogs win industry tips and trends.

Corporate blogs are in fact becoming a must for a brand to take off, stand out and remain apart. The unspoken rules of social media engagement mandate corporations to maintain a blog section on their websites that houses their updates, news and announcements and views on the world in general and their world specifically.

Carefully curated and strategized social media calendars and community management are now a pre-requisite, sometimes preceding the launch of a brand, a company or an initiative.

The press release in 2020 does not stand alone and can only serve a support function. Unless you want it consigned to spam-sphere, it must be tethered to a strategic positioning and media outreach plan, and its content must be carefully selected to deliver on your business’ messaging. Where possible, it must include videos, infographs and data visualization tools and always be promoted on social media channels, where engagement can be measured, and communities can be managed.

By identifying and implementing the communication mold and medium that are best suited to your business’ objectives, we can help you keep pace with the change and optimize the use of the press release.

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