Thursday, November 3, 2011

Press releases: A necessary evil & how to use them

Corporate press releases -- ugh. Raise your hand if you agree.

Let's face it, most corporate press releases aren't newsworthy, compelling or relevant to readers, often because the approval process is excessive.

Unsurprisingly, surveys repeatedly have shown that top-notch news media hardly ever use press releases for sourcing stories.

That said, press releases do in fact have great value for corporations -- internally, that is. They may trigger the start of an internal process involving multiple departments, catalyzing people in a variety of functions and aligning them around common business objectives. Once the approval process for a press release is complete, there's consensus. And if there isn't consensus, there's a new awareness of divisive issues or not-well-thought-out questions that may not have come to light so quickly.

A press release is a stake in the ground. It's a public statement of what a company does, believes or intends, with the help of which partners and for whom. It's useful for archiving. You can look at press releases posted on a company's website to see where it's been.

If you work in PR, I suggest writing an email pitch tailored to a specific news reporter, emphasizing information that your own research tells you will be useful to that particular news reporter.

In the last line, include a link to the press release, inviting the reporter to have a look at it for further information. It's unlikely the press release alone will be of interest, so I recommend including it but not relying on it.

Caveat: Earnings releases and other financially relevant announcements are the exception. These have external news value because they influence the decisions of people outside the company who buy and sell stocks, as well as help the company fulfill SEC requirements for proper disclosure.