When someone as influential as the top communications person for one of the “big four” banks tells a room full of PR people that the press release is dead you realise how much the world has changed.
As a journalist and editor for Fairfax Media and Bauer for 20 years before launching content agency Storyation, I must have received hundreds of thousands of press releases. Some of them were snappily written; others were turgid and riddled with grammatical errors. The vast majority were simply irrelevant to me and binned without being read.
In my first job as a daily newspaper reporter in which I mostly covered murders and asbestos spills, I once received a press release (and a follow up phone call from a perky PR person) about a new brand of vacumn cleaner with lots of helpful detail about its sucking power. I soon learned to never pick up my phone.
So when Paul Edwards, Group GM of Communications for ANZ, stood up in a windowless hotel meeting room at the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand conference in Auckland earlier this month and said that the press release was redundant because the way journalists want to consume information has changed, I just about burst into applause.
Edwards said that ANZ had launched its digital publication Blue Notes because the bank realised that to succeed in social media they needed brilliant content. But they have also found that Blue Notes has redefined the way that they deal with journalists. Instead of relying on press releases to get their message out they publish a story themselves which in turn gets picked up by media.
All of this was the ideal introduction to my session at the PRINZ conference the following day. I spoke about how PR professionals need to adapt in a rapidly changing world where content marketing is how brands are looking to connect with audiences who are switching off to traditional advertising.
I’m not convinced that the press release is dead yet but it’s almost certainly on life support. While brands continue to churn them out, under-resourced media teams have less time than ever to read them. Unless a press release delivers genuine news – an announcement that has real news value to the person it is delivered to (and does it in no more than a few paragraphs) it is unlikely to generate media coverage.
The bigger opportunity is for PR teams to start creating editorial stories to build audiences on a brand’s own platform that also get earned media. Those stories might inspire the media to do a “matcher” (their own version of the story as has happened with ANZ) or, in some markets, if the story is good enough, a growing number of publications will run it verbatim. My agency works with Tourism New Zealand’s Global PR team and they have seen some excellent results in a short period of time by sharpening their focus on content creation and relying less on media famils and traditional press releases.
What’s the difference between a press release and an actual story the media might run? The former is almost always focused on the product – and the latter is always focused on the audience and what they want to read. The PR professionals that can grasp the difference and find angles that align with the brand’s purpose without a hard sell have a bright future indeed.