The Press Release Primer

Above: You may entertain a fantasy that this is what happens to press releases, but the filing systems tend to be circular. Photo by Illia Uriadnikov, DepositPhotos.

BitDepth#1055 for August 23, 2016

It seems absurd that it’s necessary to have a conversation about press releases in 2016, but we do live in an environment of quite different media consumption and some old rules are on shaky ground. 

Let’s start by considering exactly what a press release is. 

At its most basic, a release is a focused burst of information from an individual, group or corporate entity sharing a message that isn’t of pressing newsworthiness. Some releases do address newsworthy matters and those tend to specifically represent the sender’s perspective on the matter that’s being reported on. 

By volume, such releases represent only the tiniest fraction of corporate dispatches to the media. 

My current engagement in press releases began two years ago with the founding of TechNewsTT. Right from the start I designed a space for a curated selection of press releases from the tech sector into the website..

This struck me as useful because these documents also represent an indelible record of corporate statements, promises and positions in a rapidly evolving sector. 

There are, at this writing, 236 releases archived on TechNewsTT and several of them have proved quite popular. 

That said, I reject more than 70 per cent of the material that arrives in my inbox, and here’s why. 

Irrelevance. 

Um. Technology news website? 

A surprising number of companies, along with their PR agencies think we still live in the era of one size fits all media. 

Online, we don’t access content that way. Hyper-focused content and topic aggregation reflect the digital newsreader’s preference for subject and news sector authority over the happenstance of flicking through the pages of a newspaper or turning the dial on a radio. 

The act of looking at a Web page may be described as browsing, but it really isn’t. Users search for specific things, bookmark specific sites and follow specific links. 

Bad content and formatting. 

Those popular posts I mentioned? Most were rewritten and refocused for news value pertinent to the publication. 

Many more get ignored for pointlessness or bad writing (which means I have to spend time I don’t have on fixing them), or difficulty experienced accessing the material. 

I get that you want to send a neat, professional release. It makes you look good for your client or boss. So you send the file baked in Hell’s steaming kitchen, the PDF. 

How many of you have tried to access the content in your nice little PDF press release? 

Yeah, I thought so. 

Here’s what happens. Every formatting glitch you can imagine, and many you have never considered or seen before, appears in an innocent copy and paste. 

Your text looks like it wandered out of a favela after taking an unfortunate wrong turn with that last copy key command. 

Tables end up looking like hacker code. Logos are crunched into pixilated messes and photos don’t do much better. 

What’s best?

In a perfect world, text should be prepared as a Rich Text File (.rtf), logos should be supplied as Illustrator or PNG files and images would be sized to at least 1,500 pixels on the long side, properly toned and colour corrected. Every photo should have a caption that explains its content without engaging in conjecture or needless colour writing.

As long as we are inhabiting that halcyon space of PR excellence, let’s talk about what a website can do for your PR strategy.

Simply put, I won’t post your stuff to the web without an image, nor will most online news websites or blogs.

If you don’t send something useful, I’ll go find it elsewhere and if you don’t have suitable materials available online, you’ve guaranteed a loss of control for your image management. If the only picture of your CEO that shows up on Google features him cackling over a beer, well, that’s on you.

Consider a gallery of professional images showing your company’s service or production processes at their best, headshots of your key management and leadership and basic information about the company that will answer most background questions.

Public relations cannot hope to guide the reporting process, but it can, at its best, lubricate and inform it. If your information distribution systems aren’t supportive of that goal, they aren’t addressing one of their core and critical functions.