PR 101: The purpose of the news release in the digital age

Walk into any PR firm and you’ll undoubtedly heard discussions of news releases.  They are the staple of the PR business.  PR firms spend countless hours writing and distributing tons of news announcements touting their clients’ newest products or latest developments.

The only problem is, about 95% of all news releases are simply ignored by the media.

So why do so many public relations firms spend their time and their clients’ money writing news releases that never get used?

Unfortunately, in the public relations business, the news release is the equivalent to the advertisement in the advertising business.   Generating publicity is something that PR executives have little control over.  The media make their own decisions what to report, so if a PR firm wants their clients to think they are earning their fees, they churn out news releases. At least it gives the appearance that they are doing something.

Of course there are situations when the news release plays a critically important role and gets attention.  It is when a company, organization or person has real news to announce.  When an announcement of major importance needs to be disseminated, the news release is the right vehicle.  However, as noted above, too many PR firms have forgotten that a “news release” should include actual “news.”

What the PR business needs is fewer news releases and more strategic thinking and creativity.  There are times when we write news releases that don’t contain major news.  The purpose of these types of releases is for background.  They contain information, quotes, statistics and information about our client’s story.  In these cases, we never use a news release by itself.  It is meant to accompany a thoughtful email pitch that suggests a story to a particular reporter.  The email pitch explains why the story suggestion is newsworthy, why it is relevant and why it will be of interest to their readers or viewers.  The news release gives additional information and explanation, but is not the “pitch.”

Creating effective “pitches” is the art of PR.  It requires understanding what stories the media are looking for, what is happening in the world and how to connect a client to what the media are writing about today.  That is what pitching is all about.

The news release is there to just give the details after we get the reporter’s attention.

Every client of a PR firm should make their agency justify why they are writing a news release, what the objective is and the PR/marketing strategy behind spending the time and funds to write the release.

The results will be more value for dollars spent and a higher PR success rate.