By Cara Sloman, executive vice president, Nadel Phelan, Inc.
Today’s news is primarily delivered to us moment by moment in an endless barrage of tweet-sized news bites. Because of this, many business and marketing professionals wonder if press releases are still worth the effort. Many familiar tactics are no longer effective and may even prove detrimental. Gone are the days when distributing a press release over the wire and then bulk mailing it to a media list would result in meaningful press coverage. And Google has changed its SEO algorithms such that stuffing keywords in announcements won’t raise a company’s page ranking. In fact, this practice is considered a black hat SEO tactic – one that hurts search engine ranking. Quantity over quality isn’t effective, either. Newsroom employment continues to shrink, meaning publications have less bandwidth to cover each and every update from your company. Unless you have a newsworthy story to share – something a journalist would be compelled to allocate their time to write about—distributing a press release won’t result in invaluable coverage.
Despite these changes, press releases remain relevant and communications teams should still use them to share important news. In Cision’s 2019 State of the Media Report, 71% of journalists said they wanted to receive news announcements and press releases from brands. This high percentage points to why press releases endure: reporters can pull the news facts from a well-organized release directly into their stories, saving time and making it more likely that the information in those stories is correct.
Press releases serve internal purposes, too. I once witnessed a CEO and a senior vice president of sales argue over the target market and value proposition for a new offering the company was about to launch. One insisted it was SMB, while the other thought the focus should be on mid-sized enterprises. The press release offered a galvanizing moment to identify and resolve a major disconnect in their go-to-market strategy and get everyone on the same page. Beyond clarifying decision making, press releases are an authoritative source of company news that showcases traction in the market through major product and service launches, key executive hires, regional or global expansion, key customer acquisition, significant partnerships, and more. As such, they are important to how organizations archive and tell their own story.
Still, not every update from your company is worthy of media attention. As SEO algorithms, social media platforms, and the journalism landscape all change, communications professionals need to be vigilant to how, where, and when they’re highlighting their company news.
I’ve spent more than 20 years in B2B technology PR and communications, and seen trends come and go, while what is truly valuable endures. My experience has shown time and again that the most successful communications teams do six things that ensure their press releases are landing.
- Be more selective when it comes to what is worth announcing. Some announcements carry more weight than others in the eyes of the media. Product launches or updates with features that bring significant value to customers, research reports, funding news and customer announcements with strong data points are more likely to be covered than announcements on awards or your new logo.
- Develop a meaningful message. Only a fraction of reporters will go on to read a release after seeing the headline – so make it count. Craft a quality headline that answers the questions: “Why does this news matter?” “What does it mean for the industry?”
- Avoid jargon as much as possible. While some technical jargon may be necessary, buzzwords like “digital transformation” and “disruptive” not only obscure your message but also earn a collective eye roll from journalists—with the worst offenders getting called out on Twitter.
- Make it easy to digest. According to industry best practices, press releases should be between 300 and 800 words. Press releases should be short and succinct. If you have more to say, develop a blog on the subject.
- Consider organizing information in a variety of formats. For example, key benefit statements, product features, and statistics can be broken up into bullet points. Bullet points serve as easy reference points for reporters, instead of forcing them to sort through a long block of text.
- Use visuals. The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” rings true. Announcements including images, videos, and infographics perform better in terms of pickups and coverage conversions. Cision research has found that press releases with a visual element get 3X more views.
Do What Works
“Out with the old, in with the new” – unless the old is still serving your communications needs. Press releases continue to offer tremendous value, but you need to craft them well and wisely in order for them to retain relevance and produce quality results.
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