Like the public relations profession as a whole, the press release has evolved over the years, and come under attack by critics and under construction by more progressive thinkers in the field. Many of us have worked on press releases, struggled with the language, and wondered, perhaps, if the current format is inconsistent with the way it reaches our intended audience: the media. Many journalists search for stories in other places. They filter their inboxes and apply what's crudely referred to as a "BS detector" to releases filled with spin and gobbledygook.
There are plenty of books, blogs and white papers on this ailing (or somewhat advanced in age) communication tactic. If the press release is on life support, as some suggest, is the social media release, or SMR, that was talked about five years ago (such as those from SHIFT Communications, Pitch Engine and News Basis) its heir?
First, we need to ask if the press release is still intended for the press.
"Traditional PR is often referred to as press relations," notes Shannon Whitley, HR systems project manager at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and an application developer (he created My Tweeple, a relationship management tool). But considering what social media have the potential to do, he adds, "it's also very important to expand that reach to bloggers, group influencers and directly to the customer." Although he grants that it is important to reach out to the press, he notes that "through social media, large groups of people are more available to PR professionals. With some work, PR practitioners can find places where the most important people for a campaign are already gathering. All one has to do is join the conversation."
Whitley knows firsthand about going directly to the customer. He developed the first SMR creation tool, PRX Builder, and now specializes in social applications for the Web, desktops and mobile devices.
PR's new platform
Jason Kintzler, a former journalist and anchorman turned PR guy, takes a different approach, saying we should not be obsessing about or targeting the press at all. Kintzler co-founded Pitch Engine, a service that promises to "free the press release." Free it from what? From the trappings of a document, the company says--to "put an end to the Word doc PR era." Any news-worthy announcement is placed in a social PR platform.
"Back when reporters would typeset paragraphs from press releases straight into articles, the press release served...