The fallacy of the press release and annoying party guy



Posted: In: Blogs Industry Insights & Trends

Last week I was obsessed with conducting online searches for the term “public relations.”

This week, my obsession has morphed into a related but far more controversial activity, which (at rock bottom) may or may not have had me secretly recording a Skype conversation with a poor unsuspecting sales rep from a wire service, which will remain unnamed.

But I got the juice. He’s likely still recovering.

Said activity: debunking the myths of the press release and revealing insider information so that we can all figure out a better way to spend our time.

Sigh. Relief. Yes, I said it. There is a better way to spend our time. And our money for that matter.

Together, here today, we are going to all get on the same page and understand how the pesky little press release has become the equivalent of “that guy” at a party who everyone thinks is annoying-but-necessary-to-invite.

While he certainly has intrinsic value, if placed in the wrong situation (like on a dance floor next to the hot chick) he may embarrass-slash-insult everyone within eyeshot – including the object of his bad and inappropriate dance move affection.

You feel me?

Press release myths

Myth #1 – the press release, if emailed to 1000 people all at once (ala spam) with absolutely no context, will likely result in you actually getting press coverage.

Myth #2 – the press release, if distributed over the wire, will likely result in you actually getting press coverage.

Exhibit A: Below is a screen shot of the company I may or may not have recorded a conversation with this week. I have left out their logo, but this message is not unlike how most wire services are positioned. To the untrained PR eye, it all seems great! But, the devil is in the details – which we will get to in a minute.

Wire services

But first…

The truth about the press release

Does the press release have merit? The short answer is “yes” it does. But the longer answer would go something like this:

Truth #1 – the press release forces all constituencies (PR agencies, clients, internal marketing folks, etc.) to get on the same page. Literally. It is the antecedent to almost any media pitch because it requires factual information to be laid out in an organized fashion. This is extremely necessary and useful, particularly if there are multiple stakeholders.

Truth #2 – for large companies, particularly publicly traded ones, press releases distributed over the wire are a statement of public record. So, if you’re a small company or a startup, keep that in mind. It’s a statement. Made by you. Which is factual in nature. It does zilch for building credibility in the market or driving your narrative forward. You must understand the difference.

The problem (and you can refer to Exhibit A above) is when press releases attempt to be something they’re not: much like annoying party guy trying to bust out dance moves when he should probably stick to the light head bop.

In other words – press releases should neatly relay facts and provide statements and quotes for the record. They shouldn’t really try to tell a compelling story or be flowery or convincing. Because inherently they are none of those things. Again, they have merit, but within the appropriate context.

So what if I just signed a 20k wire services contract?

If you’re a small company, congratulations you probably just got screwed. Here’s why:

News wire distribution services will do basically nothing to drive traffic to your site or lead to conversions. Undercover, secretly, possibly recorded wire service dude confirmed this.

Furthermore, with Google’s new algos, aimed at weeding out certain types of link building/SEO tactics, press releases have even less value than they did before. #InsideScoop. #CovertSkype. #NeitherConfirmNorDeny.

The value with SEO press releases then, is really only when social media outlets or blogs pick them up…because Google ranks those types of sites as legitimate sources.

Last point about wire services: when they say that they are sending your press release to 100+ targeted media I can guaran-damn-tee you that .00056% of journalists ever read them. It goes back to the simple fact in Myth #1 – it feels like spam. It’s not personal, it’s not customized. It may be useful down the road when a reporter is searching around the Internet to find supporting facts for a story – hey, you may come up in the results – but that’s a pretty far cry from a strategic PR approach.

Parting thoughts…

#1 If your PR firm is sending out press releases over the wire or spamming journalists and charging you 5k/month to do ONLY that – fire them.

#2 If your CMO just spent 20k on a wire services contract and believes this will replace hiring a PR firm with a proven track record of getting their clients actual press – fire her/him.

#3 And if anyone tells you that “annoying party guy” will replace “good conversation guy” at your next party…well…you know what to do.

Stay tuned for my next obsessive act – which may or may not include mailing myself in a cardboard box to Bloomberg Businessweek to see if I can overhear an editorial meeting or two.