Thursday, July 06, 2006

Whither Press Releases

I think that all PR practitioners should follow the discussion about the future of press releases.

It would not surprise me the hear some practitioners wonder what I am talking about.

But the press release has changes a lot in the last five years. It has morphed from the typewriter and duplicator to the PC and email. It is now a web post and PDF. In less than ten years the change has been significant and it will continue to morph and change.

There is a considerable issue here. Let us suppose a press release is issued to a web site. It will be picked up by a search engine in due course. If it is sent to an online distribution service, it will be picked up by some people and search engines faster. Its circulation will be immediate and by the time the presses role it will be long in the tooth.

So, what is the purpose of a press release?

A press release has a role where the content is/can be reproduced in a different channel for communication. This is not a futuristic point, it happens now and to most press releases. The range of channels available is very wide. Online right now I show 14 channels and these in addition to press radio and television.

In some instances the route for press release content is from release to newspaper/journal via an editor/journalist. But it could also be from press release to PRNewswire to Google and via RSS feed to intranet or MySpace.

There is a second role. It is to tempt the receiver to find out more. The receiver can, if the release is online anywhere, call the PR person. This normally is a call from a journalists to the PR person.

Part of this conversation will be to look for alternative or additional information. Some of this information will be online.

But there is another enquirer. This is the search engine and search bot. They look for more information to add to the story. For example a hyperlink to the company web site, company name or a brief description of the company. Goole routinely shows the range of publication that cover the story about the company.

What happens if the enquiry is not from a journalist? It could be from a blogger ot podcaster or anyone else for that matter. If, the answer from the PR department is to deal only with traditional press, where does the citizen go?

Added content created for the media on Wiki's or iJot can offer considerable depth of information and this can be enriched with video or voice in vid/vodcast and podcast comment. In fact the production of a press release may now need vast collateral support to make it available and useful to the people and technologies that will receive it.

Typically a journalists will call for story confirmation and to eke out some unique added angle of spin for the story.

Distributing a press release with backgrounders is common practice (although using wiki's or podcasts is not so common yet). Thus the purpose of the press release is to feed services that can use the content in a range of technologies. Traditionally for a printing press. But now the medium can be as diverse as one-to-one Instant Messaging; one-to-many Google News or many-to-one RSS.

The key to a successful press release will be its inherent capability to offer content and construction for purpose. The target might be a journalist an also it may be for a search engine or an SMS alert technology. This is why the future of the nature of the press release is an important discussion.

I work in the UK and the actualitie is the noticeable relationship based round a telephone and 100 word emails with the press release being a statement of record rather than a news announcement. The un-noticed PR engagement is online. Most practitioners in the UK see some of this activity, most do nothing to affect it and of those that do, the range of channels they seek to affect is very limited.

There is nothing wrong in this. We are in a state of transition. The technologies are taking over much of the human side of Press Release production, distribution, reponce and publication. Is PR for cyborgs?

But I can see a day (quite soon) when computers take the content of a press `release and mix and match similar and associated comment to form stories and editors only make final adjustments (Web 2.0 mashup software). Then the whole deal will change.

In the meantime it is worth following the press release debate.

Picture: Darkwold's Design Cyborg