Is the press release dead?

Is the press release dead?

You’ve been sitting on that product launch, event or big news piece for several weeks, working on strategy and doubting whether to create a news release. Then the day arrives, and the release is sent out… but what you get is less than you’d hoped for. A smattering of interest from your close contacts, maybe some rejections but mostly a lot of non-replies. Are journalists not interested in press releases anymore or is it something else? Telum investigated the relevance of the press release in an increasingly time-poor, digital media world, asking the opinions of PRs and journos across Asia Pacific.

A 2018 survey found that among senior in-house and corporate communicators, 34 per cent said the press release has become less important when it comes to strategy. With a wide array of tools, the press release may no longer be the most effective, depending on the goal. The next question that arises is how to distribute the press release - via a newswire or by pitching it directly? Depending on the answer, the press release may well be structured differently.

Quality over quantity
Mass mailing to all your journalist contacts could be a time-saver and may seem like casting a wider net. However, the spray and pray method might just serve to ruffle feathers. It’s more crucial for PR professionals to understand the publications and journalists they are targeting and what they really write about to make sure their “news” is indeed new and relevant for the journalists.

Bryan Choo, Managing Director of, advises PR professionals to “have an extremely curated mailing list so recipients find the releases relevant”.

According to the interest surveys of journalists collected by Telum Media, the relevance of the press release is one of the most important factors the journalists look out for. A few journalists also suggested that the press release will receive better coverage when it’s recipient specific and tailored for the specific publication, and not sent to multiple journalists at the same publication.

Bauer Media Australia’s Digital Managing Editor, Food & Homes, Amber Manto points out that one of her pet peeves is receiving press releases that “do not tailor the information to the brand they are presenting it to.” honestbee's VP, PR and Communications, Belle Baldoza, agrees: “When writing a press release, always remember that you should be writing it for the journalist, not for your client or brand.”

Localising the content and format for regional journalists and new media doesn’t hurt as well, James Dyson, SVP, Communications from FleishmanHillard, points out. “We see more evidence of an increase in Chinese companies using international communications as they head overseas. Their translated releases are generally quite easy to spot given their traditional style of lengthy context and background before getting to the news. Part of the localising process is flipping them around, so they work better for a western audience.”

Whether or not a press release is the right tool also depends on the journalist or media you are pitching too. Some industries and outlets lend themselves to long, fact-driven releases or releases that can be copied directly, whereas others prefer to build their own stories based on a short snappy release. With technology, the press release will continue to evolve. Imagine the fully operational AI newsroom which would only be able to function with formulaic clear, concise and factual press releases, not fluffy, witty prose.

Have a story
In the crunch of time to get out a release, it may be easy to forget that at the core of your release should be a good story. Ann Chong, Managing Director for Southeast Asia at LEWIS, says that “in the very complex world of communications, a good story still lies at the core of all communication materials.” As the media changes and technology breeds an ever greater number of channels, it is important to remember that the effectiveness for any release will be based on relevance.

Amber also notes how important it is to give the journalist as much as possible, to cut down their work. “In digital media, one writer will produce between four to eight stories per day among other social media tasks, so if a PR wants to get attention on an event / product, the press release needs to be delivered in a way where majority of the leg work has been done for us”.

Roxanne Dowell, Senior Editor at Sassy Mama Hong Kong, concurs. “So often press releases are verbose without containing much information, and many do not include images we can use. Make them concise, informative and current. The fewer times we need to go back to the publicist about information, the higher the chances are that we will cover that event or story.”

Standing out
It’s also important to remember that popular publications get a tonne of releases sent to them. Like creating content on social media, PR professionals will have to create something that stands out from the clutter of press releases.

One way to do so is through the visual element. “Supplementing press releases with photographs and infographics will add greater impact,” Ann commented. Bryan also recommends creating relevant and interesting events to complement the news release which may result in publications being keen to cover the event (and the news) organically instead. That includes sending video content and high definition imagery, ideally not attached, but hosted on the cloud with a downloadable link.

Belle suggests for media kits and resources to be hosted on microsites and publishing sites that allow for more dynamic multimedia formats. “Other interesting ways to package your story beyond the usual press release come in the form of informative thought leadership pieces, data-driven story angles or social media content, done in partnership with media outlets’ or influencers’ channels.”

Verdict: Is the press release dead?
The simple answer is no. As James put it, “Press releases are alive and well. A well-written release with meaningful content can get very widely picked up, so it can be a very effective tool. But before embarking on a press release, it’s important to consider whether or not it’s the right vehicle to reach your target audience. It could be that a simple note to editors or a blog post would deliver a better outcome.”

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