Public relations is a practice known for its ability to change and evolve at a rapid pace. Such is also true throughout the wider communications industry. A prime example of this has been in the way communications professionals use press releases.
In the past, press releases were king. In fact, it was once unthinkable to complete a major announcement without a formal release going out over the wire. Press releases were the first step, and the most crucial in making the initial announcement.
But today, things have changed. Press releases can’t solve all of your media relations problems. Reporters are spread thin, their coverage topics have widened, and there are fewer reporters to even read your release. While reporters are filing stories and interviewing experts, many are spending just a few moments to review any recent press releases coming across the wire or hitting their inbox.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Aug. '18 Financial PR/IR & Professional Services PR Magazine
So, it might be tempting for us to assume that press releases are now nothing more than a formality for getting your most important announcements out into the public. The rise of social media has made the press release seem long, slow and clunky, and it would seem natural to embrace the latest tools for efficiency’s sake.
But that would be a mistake. Press releases are still quite useful, if used correctly and strategically. They remain a vital tool of the trade, and many organizations should continue to use them, albeit not exclusively.
In looking at the many changes that have affected public relations throughout the years, social media is the clear game-changer, and tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have become very tough competitors for traditional news announcements through press releases. But on the positive side, competition with social media platforms has introduced a higher level of creativity for how some PR professionals can leverage the press release. Instead of folding completely to the social media giants, there are opportunities where a press release can still lead a big announcement.
It’s true that social media has changed how we communicate. Many companies — especially those targeting a consumer audience — choose to make major announcements through social media. For example, Denny’s last month announced the addition of new specials to its menu. Did the company just send out a press release to get the word out? Well, sort of. Denny’s public relations team “accidentally” sent out a draft version of the release, with supposed comments from executives. In the release, an “executive” added phrases to the release such as “limited time only” and comments like “with a price this crazy, we’ll need to stick to a limited time only.” This trick acted as a jumping off point for Denny’s, who was able to achieve greater exposure about their specials.
Another example comes from the restaurant IHOP. They also wanted to announce a new menu item, but they took a different course of action, which gained them a completely different reaction than Denny’s, not all of which was positive. So how did they do it? The company’s social media team teased an announcement on social and later released a “statement” that the company was changing its name to IHOb, International House of Burgers, a stunt designed to highlight the addition of new items to their menu.
Besides social media, we now have a number of other tools that can complement the press release. For example, infographics are an innovative means for communicating news. Infographics are clear, easily understandable and appealing to many people. They can take a dense topic and summarize it through images and colors that are eye-catching and engaging.
With all of that said, it’s worth mentioning that the goals of an announcement, regardless of the platform, haven’t changed. Hitting the right audience at the right time remains the most important goal for public relations professionals, even if it’s no longer on the front page of the daily paper. Whether this is done with a fun stunt involving social media, with faux announcements or with an infographic, there remains a number of ways brands can reach and engage their target audiences.
I’m always proud to see innovation and creativity in our industries. It’s important for us to learn how to improve our skills and means for accomplishing our communications goals. We’re no longer limited in the ways we can reach the people we want to target with our messages, and this remains the true cornerstone of public relations. While things continue to change in communications, the fundamentals remain the same. I’ll never forget an important piece of advice I learned from a mentor: “If you want to be star in PR, stick to the 4 C’s. Always say something clear, credible, colorful and compelling.”
Kent Sholars is an Account Supervisor in the Dallas office of Pierpont Communications, the largest independent communications agency in Texas.