The Press Release: For Immediate Decease?

Gregg Castano, CEO, Castano Communications Consulting

For some time now, there has been much pontification and consternation surrounding the viability of the sometimes venerated, sometimes castigated press release. Is it dead, dying, done like dinner? Well, like Mark Twain’s prematurely pronounced passing, the death of the press release has been greatly exaggerated.

Prophesies of its demise have, until now, been mostly based on the wishful prognostications of social media evangelicals and the thorough lack of love given it by disinterested millennials. While it’s true that its sustainability has been worked over like a heavy bag before a championship bout, the humble press release nonetheless remains a staple of the professional communicator’s carte du jour of messaging options.

This is not to naively suggest that the press release’s preeminence hasn’t been challenged in many ways by hipper forms of audience targeting using social media and content marketing channels. The Internet has spawned the PESO media rubric (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned), allowing for multiple approaches to audience engagement, in which the press release takes its place squarely, if somewhat less pronounced, in the Earned media bucket.

While its dominant role in the communications eco-system may have been diminished somewhat by seemingly more cutting-edge methodologies, the press release has demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability, thanks mainly to the innovations of the industry that depends on it for its very survival, newswires. What was once a static textual document, is now replete with embedded multimedia, social media sharing tools, hyperlinks, hash/cash tags and rotating quote call outs.

But even stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with bells and whistles, is it enough? Where does it go from here? With the convergence of PR and marketing rapidly gathering steam, the press release must undergo even more radical change and become less of an earned media tool and instead develop into a content marketing vehicle that plays well over traditional, digital and social media channels. A tall order, but essential to the long-term survival of the artform.

It must be able to break free of its traditional restrictions – its very format – and have the flexibility to take on other identities – blogs, infographics, white papers, surveys, opinion pieces, short form video, interactive photos et al.

Of course, this will require not only a revolution in how the press release is perceived, designed and constructed, but also a sea change in how the content is processed and employed downstream. It may stop looking and feeling like a press release altogether, and instead simply be the “shipping container” in which all manner of news and marketing content is carried. And again, newswires are perfectly positioned to lead the way, as they already have the pipeline. All they need is the audacity.

There will always be room for the traditional press release, but the emerging generation, the oft-maligned millennial, will soon occupy the sweet spot for marketers, if they don’t already. They’ve been raised to ingest information very differently from Baby-Boomer and even Gen Xers. They are not only forcing change, but will soon be in the power positions to enact it.

That change will, by necessity, compel the media, online and traditional, as well as major content portals, to reexamine what their subscribers really want, and perhaps upend the current revenue model, to adapt to the press release’s metamorphosis.

Therefore, it would be wise for those currently at the controls to prepare for the next wave by retrofitting or reinventing not just the press release itself but the ways in which it is consumed as well. Visual, interactive, social, multi-format and designed to travel unfiltered to the target audience are some of the attributes the press release of the near future must embrace.

To borrow another Twain-ism, necessity is the mother of taking chances. And I think it’s clear that to ensure the long-term vitality of the press release, the necessity exists to take chances on transforming its core form and function. The end product must be an adaptation capable of serving the needs and behaviors of the next generation of communicators.

About the Author: Gregg Castano spent 32 years with Business Wire in various direct sales, sales management and executive management roles, including Co-COO, culminating in his appointment as president in 2009. While president, Castano was responsible for overseeing the sales and marketing functions, was instrumental in much of the company’s international growth strategy and served on its executive committee, which guides company direction and strategy. He performed in this role until his departure in May, 2017. Subsequently, in October of 2017, Castano formed his own independent consulting practice. Castano Communications Consulting, LLC assists entrepreneurs, startups and Small Cap IPOs nationwide with their messaging strategies. He also specializes in offering industry guidance to investment banks and private equity firms exploring acquisition opportunities within this industry segment.

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2 Comments

  1. Ford Kanzler on November 15, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    The Press, News or Media Release has been evolving for longer than you or I have been in public relations practice. All that while, it has also been executed in varying forms and for differing purposes. One primary purpose is and has been capturing earned media attention. The release is one of several ways of accomplishing that. Unfortunately another is satisfying an uninformed or ignorant CEO’s ego.
    The most objectionable purpose I find is “demonstrating corporate heartbeat.” This instance is where releases are issued on near-continuous schedule, often more than one at at time as some kind of publicity barrage intended to gain more earned media coverage. We know the technique of “PR stands for Press Release,” is ineffective and even destructive to PR success for a variety of reasons. Aside from over-communicating to the target market, the immense amount of staff time required for developing, review/approval, issuing and perhaps following up on a coninuing string of announcements does not result in significantly greater coverage, brand awareness and credibility. In fact it can more often result in less. Primarily it burns out the PR team and wastes the talent which might be applied to a far wider and more creative range of tactics.
    Effective use of the news release, including all its various available technical embellishments, still needs to be tempered with appropriate application to the overall PR program, just as with any tactic. PR isn’t a one-trick pony. Releases must continue serving the information needs of external audiences, not dictated by internal, unimaginative ones.
    There have always been alternative and additional tactics to using a news release. Skilled PR pros select a range of situation-dependent, cost-effective tactics supporting a clearly differentiated communications strategy.
    Calling the press release “dead” has been fashionable for at least a couple of decades nmow. But that’s akin to claiming PSA’s, speeches, op-ed articles, sponsored videos, newsletters, magazines, books, road shows, events and other proven PR tactics are no longer effective. My guess is the negative opinion of press releases’ value rises primarily from people who have experienced the tactic being poorly applied.
    A range of PR tools, appropriate to an organization’s competitive situation and available budget, are what moves the needle of target audience opinion. That means a press release may be exactly the right thing to do at a particular time…along with some other appropriate ones.

  2. Ken Dowell on November 17, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    What the press release really needs is an audience beyond the press.

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