The news release was born on Oct. 28, 1906.
Fast forwarding to 2015, organizations distributed roughly 762,000 news releases on wire services. Our back-of-the-envelope math figures 30 hours went into each news release at $200 per hour.
The punch line —
Organizations spent around $4.5B on the creation of news release back in 2015, a number that has no doubt risen over the years.
Taking a random swatch of 100 news releases from this pool, we discovered that less than 5 percent generated what we would term meaningful coverage.
The PR function puts too much dependence on the news release. Yet, there’s a time and a place to use the news release as Kelly Trom explains.
By Kelly Trom, Senior Account Executive
Outdated. Useless. Ego-stroking. These are just a few of the words that may come to mind when you hear the term “press release.”
But that doesn’t mean that this 112-year old public relations tool doesn’t have its time and place. While Hoffman’s standard counsel to clients is to not be overly dependent on news announcements, there are moments where a press release really is the most effective path forward.
Take for example a scenario that recently arose with the Agency’s City of Fremont client. In January, we learned that the Fremont Police Department would soon be launching a pilot program to test a customized Tesla Model S for patrol operations to gauge its economic and practical feasibility.
We knew immediately that this was rare storytelling gold (the kind that doesn’t come around every day) because:
A) It would likely be the first police department in the U.S. to have a functioning Tesla patrol vehicle in its fleet.
B) Fremont is home to the principal automobile production facility Tesla Factory (i.e., this new police car would be patrolling its home turf).
We also realized that the Fremont Police Department likely didn’t have the manpower nor the desire to conduct one-on-one media briefings with every single journalist who would be interested in the news.
A to-the-point news release that contained the most important facts (i.e., scope of pilot program, cost/process of customization, etc.) would be key to ensuring that journalists could write on this news when they wouldn’t have access to the police department for interviews.
Our final news release generated 116 original and syndicated articles, garnering over 452 million impressions in top-tier tech and business publications such as Mashable, Digital Trends, Quartz, Fox Business and U.S. News & World Report, among others.
Of the articles that utilized our humble press release, 34 articles contained a direct hyperlink to the release, 34 articles featured Police Captain Sean Washington’s quote, and many more cited our exact messaging in the areas of the pilot program details, the City’s clean tech goals, patrol car specifications and the police department’s solar carports.
The messaging overlap between the press release and the news stories was staggering: 20.6 percent of the average original article’s copy was directly lifted from the press release. That’s 1 out of every 5 words, a sign that the construction of the news release aligned with how journalists write.
Our team ensured that every sentence in the release mattered to the overall story. We emphasized the potential sustainability benefits with concise, significant data such as, “this program has the potential to eliminate 10 percent of all municipal greenhouse gas emissions.”
We added in punchy details about the customization of the vehicle, sharing the police equipment that needed to be added to the Tesla to make it deployable for patrol. And we made sure that it all had a logical flow, from the inception of the program to vehicle modification and next steps for the pilot program.
The following article published by Autoblog represents the average amount of copy lifted (highlighted for reference), with 93 out of 451 words lifted from the press release.
So how can these results be replicated? While there’s no exact formula to writing a press release that resonates, there are a few best practices that can be applied to make the content more valuable for media.
1. Ask yourself if it’s actually newsworthy.
If you’re writing a news release simply to meet an annual announcement quota or to appease management, it’s probably not going to make much of an impact. The fact that “news” is part of the term isn’t a coincidence. If your company isn’t announcing a new product, partnership (preferably with a large company), an exclusive study with industry specific data, an important management change, etc., it probably doesn’t require a press release. While there are exceptions to every rule, thinking about the announcement like a media member will always improve your odds of success.
2. Don’t be a hype man.
So you’ve decided to write the release. Adding overused adjectives (e.g., “innovative”) and spouting off hyperbolic claims will make journalists want to crawl out of their skin. There’s a reason your high school English teacher told you to “show and not tell.” If the story is newsworthy, it will stand on its own two feet. Sticking to the facts and illustrating with real anecdotes and third-party validation will be rewarded. After all, nobody likes a poser.
3. Be quotable.
Media love including quotes of substance in news stories. The problem is that oftentimes corporations’ first instinct is to draft quotes that in truth have nothing to say, such as “we’re very proud to launch product X, the most innovative of its kind today.” The explanations behind how it’s innovative/better than other products and exactly why they are proud is what journalists are after. For example, in the Fremont press release, we included exactly how much city-generated greenhouse gas emissions this program could eliminate. This plays much stronger than a more generic quote on how forward-thinking the city is with no real data to back it up.
Today, journalists have even less time to spend on stories and ever-mounting article quotas to meet. Press releases can help them do their job more time-effectively if only they didn’t have to wade through heaps of useless material to find the stories worth telling.