The lowly press release tops PR headlines in 2006

die-press-release.jpgIf you’re not a regular reader of the PR blogs, there’s a good chance you missed the birth of the Social Media Release (SMR). I was too busy, and maybe too self-absorbed, to chime in when the news was breaking. But since we’ll all be talking about it next year, I figured we could use a primer. And yes, this will be on the test.

Talk of this new type of news release arose last February with Tom Foremski’s now infamous post, “Die, Press Release, Die Die, Die!” Tom (who used this artwork in his post) insisted that the old release format just doesn’t work in a wired world. He offered some suggestions for a new approach, and a few PR pioneers took it from there.

Tom was harsh in his criticism of press releases, and I think we had it coming:

Press releases are nearly useless. They typically start with a tremendous amount of top-spin, they contain pat-on-the-back phrases and meaningless quotes. Often they will contain quotes from C-level executives praising their customer focus. They often contain praise from analysts, (who are almost always paid or have a customer relationship.) And so on…

Press releases are created by committees, edited by lawyers, and then sent out at great expense through Businesswire or PRnewswire to reach the digital and physical trash bins of tens of thousands of journalists.

This madness has to end. It is wasted time and effort by hundreds of thousands of professionals.

Todd Defren, PR blogger and principal with Shift Communications, was the first to propose a model SMR (seen below). You can download his pdf at the Shift website. Todd’s effort was followed by the much-ballyhooed “Story Crafter” template from Edelman, and news of it came to us via SMR.

smprtemplate.gif

What’s different about the social media release?

  • SMRs cede more control to your audience. Users pick and choose the facts that matter to them, shaping the story to fit the needs of their audiences. It makes the art of lead writing less important, but it forces us to focus on the newsworthy messages and deliver them in different ways. The bulleted-text format of the SMR gives users a buffet of goodies versus the prepackaged meal of old.
  • MSRs offer a range of storytelling tools. You can integrate digital audio, video, photography, infographics and more. You can embed links that take users to more and richer information. You also can insert tags and RSS feed options. In short, it’s all about choice — theirs, not ours. How Web 2.0 can you get?
  • SMPRs engage everyone, not just the media. PR pros have known for a long while that online press rooms aren’t just for the press. But too often, those press room don’t reflect this new and broader audience. They’re just, well, news. With audio, video and visual components, SMRs can better serve the non-journalist readers and maybe expand on their numbers.

Aside: As one who spends a fair amount of time in online news rooms, I’m surprised at how few of them bother to edit releases to suit online reading preferences. I’m also puzzled by how few use embedded links. Do we fear that readers will click away from our message and never return? Or are we just lazy? If we hope to connect with online readers, and SMR is a step toward that, we need a more open model.

Expect the SMR to make the oldline flacks a bit nervous. Why, I’m not sure. If anything, the SMR promises to enhance our relationships with media, online and otherwise, by offering more and better tools for storytelling. Some are sure to worry about control of the message — control we never had in the first place.

The new SMR has drawn plenty of critics, some concerned that spin doctors and shils will use the tool to innundate social media with their drivel. I’m worried about that, too. Folks in our business are prone to excess.

That’s enough about the SMR for today. If those initial links or Defren’s model pique your interest, here’s more:

Other perspectives:

Burghardt Tenderich looks forward to the death of the press release.
Lee Odden sees SMR as a great fit for marketers.
Todd Andrik says that SMR’s added elements will enhance coverage.
Bob Geller suggests a lot more than a new-format news release.
Steve Rubel demos StoryCrafter in a short video.
Robert French puts the new PRX Builder plug-in (for SMRs) for a test.

To follow or join the discussion of SMR development:

Google New Media Release Discussion Group
Social Media Release Working Group

4 Responses to The lowly press release tops PR headlines in 2006

  1. Dino Baskovic says:

    I struggle with this. I’m 32, I blog, I listen to podcasts…hell, I design websites for a living…and I have a hard time accepting the “social” press release.

    Yes, it’s nice that our audience/users/readers/stakeholders/key publics/customers/so on and so forth want control of the story. I find that to be a positive, though it makes our job both easier and harder at once. The press release is the “official line”, the naked facts and figures, the key message. From this, reporters and bloggers alike are welcome to write their stories as they see fit, and we are obliged to keep tabs.

    The press release is the concrete foundation, whether people like it or not. In some respects, it is a legal document, practically a corporate covenant. Should we start letting others frame the story, rather than giving them the framework from the start, then how are we supposed to keep the story on solid ground?

    What next for social embellishment, annual reports? My guess is the SEC and other regulatory bodies would beg to differ. Heck, why not military strategy? I’m sorry, but not matter how dry and stuffy the press release may seem to the uninitiated, it is here to stay. It is our industry’s de facto standard, end of story. Base whatever you must from it, predict it’s demise all you want, close your eyes and hope it goes away…or come back to reality, just for a minute, and get a grip.

    Nobody is saying you can’t experiment. But, you can only split an atom so many ways. At the end of the day, it’s still an atom.

  2. Wow, Dino. Tell us what you really think. Actually, I like the SMR idea for all the reasons outlined in the post. (Note: I reported those reasons, I didn’t create them.) But yeah, I can certainly see problems arising with RegFD and SarbOx. The fact that SMR allows room for interpretation of the story is really its strength, but that’s me talkin’, not the SEC. The investment community may see it differently as well, but they’re a bunch of control freaks.

    What I’m hoping we can do in our Media Relations and our Online PR Tactics classes at Kent is to ask students to experiment with the SMR to see how it plays out. What I haven’t seen anyone talk about is the amount of time/manpower it’ll take to make fullest use of the SMR format. The podcast, vodcast and inforgraphic elements don’t create themselves.

  3. Dino Baskovic says:

    Remind me to switch brands of coffee.

    Again, SMRs and similar experimental formats are perfectly fine in my book (certainly not the Bible by any stretch) so long as they don’t outright replace the original. I think that type of thinking is dangerous, and not the right, dash cunning kind of dangerous…

    Perhaps a better headline than “Press release dies” is “Public relations refuses to die”. If the venerable press release is perceived as a stale device, then we should first sit back and examine why, rather than be so quick to replace or outright dismiss it. The release may be a small part of our trade, but it is a fairly handy tool nonetheless, understatement intended.

    Just my two bits. Two more bits, and I believe I can buy that cup of coffee.

  4. Brian Wooley says:

    “Dash cunning.” Thank you, Eddie Izzard. 😉

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