The Press Release – Powerful Weapon or Antiquated Tool?

By Ascend Marketing


The first press release was believed to have been created more than 100 years ago by Ivy Lee, whose agency was working with the Pennsylvania Railroad at the time of the 1906 Atlantic City train wreck.

The idea was to perpetuate the Railroad’s version of the story before the journalists could report on what actually happened. Not much has changed in the last century in terms of the mission of the press release – control the story.

What has changed, thanks to the advent of the internet, is how it is used. Prior to the internet, press releases would be faxed or mailed. They were a good tool for journalists, who had to primarily rely on the phone and in-person interviews when reporting a story.

The internet impacted that equation.  At first it made the press release very powerful for a couple reasons: First, journalists could receive press releases instantaneously and act fast; and second, the internet led to the development of the news wire. These services maintain a list of email addresses of journalists so that a press release can be “blasted” out through their sites to hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of journalists simultaneously.

Over the last decade, however, things have changed. The internet’s impact on journalists and the use of press releases have become as much a curse as a benefit. With their email addresses readily accessible, most journalists are bombarded with releases. Among the thousands they receive per day, they could easily miss a press release you’ve sent them.

So, is the press release dead? Is the return on investment too low to include releases in the marketing mix? When it comes to placing press releases on the news wire in order gain coverage, the answer is yes. But the well-crafted press release can still be valuable if utilized properly. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Give the media an advance copy of your press release, especially if it is newsworthy. Identify your high-value media targets and then reach out to them directly starting with a phone call. Let them know you are sending the press release to their email address in advance of the release going on the wire or being posted to your website. You might let them know that you are doing this because you appreciate the reporting they are doing on their beat and that you are sending it to them before you send it to anyone else in case they are interested.
  2. Don’t be afraid to commission press releases on a regular basis. This is called “banging the drum” in the PR world. The more you bang the drum, the more you creep into the mind of that journalist. This sets up the possibility that the journalist may call you for a quote if they are doing a story about your industry or an issue your company addresses. It also can make the journalist more receptive when you call or email to pitch a story.
  3. Place the press release on the wire and your website. Though you may not get journalists calling you to write about the news in the release, the wire services have relationships with various search engines and other media outlets that can lead to exposure when prospective customers use search engines to learn more about your company or the products and services you provide. (A point to note: a competent PR professional can optimize your press release and ensure that you don’t have to spend any more than you must on the wire fee.) Finally, post the release on your website, where it will also be searchable by engines, and also add credibility to your corporate story when a prospective customer visits your site.

The press release is not dead. It can still shape your story, much as Ivy Lee had hoped more than a century ago.


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