Reports of the death of the press release have been greatly exaggerated

It was a great sound bite. But when the executive director of government comms, Alex Aiken, declared that the press release was dead at the PRCA's National Conference last month, he was only inflaming a long-running debate.

Sound bite: The press release is dead
Sound bite: The press release is dead

He argued that the PR industry was still too focused on the "cosy" process of writing press releases. Instead, he asserted that press officers should be content producers and realise that tweets, infographics or videos may be a more relevant method of disseminating a message.

His words spread quickly online. "Social media lives," tweeted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa, Rosemary Davis. Another senior industry figure asked: "Did he bury the fax machine too?"

Frank PR senior account director Rich Leigh tweeted that the press release's death has been proclaimed "for the 6,327th time - they're like Kenny from South Park". Weber Shandwick chairman of UK, corporate, financial and public affairs Jon McLeod was rather more direct: "It's bollocks."

The statement's veracity comes down to the definition of a press release.

The old command and control method of communication, symbolised by the two-page press release with its lengthy approval process, is clearly antiquated in the immediacy of today's world of rolling news and social media.

As Liquid PR CEO Lis Lewis-Jones says: "The press release has been dead for the past five years. Alex summed up what has been happening in the industry for a while."

There is little doubt that social media are becoming legitimate news distribution platforms. In March, the US Securities and Exchange Commission announced that social media would be considered valid for corporate disclosures, while Bloomberg said that it was integrating Twitter feeds into its terminals for City traders.

At the end of October, Amazon's PR team launched the latest Kindle Fire tablet with 14 tweets. Each tweet focused on a different specification of the product. The Guardian's technology editor, Charles Arthur, has asked PR professionals to contact him on Twitter, rather than by email.

None of these developments augurs well for the humble press release. But if the term is used in its wider sense to refer to a method of providing tailor-made content to journalists, then that is still very much in demand by an increasingly beleaguered media industry.

"Formal written announcements comprising facts, dates and proper attributed quotes are far from dead," says The Red Consultancy CEO Mike Morgan. "They are called news releases; the key word is 'news'.

"To convey news they must be short, accurate and, above all, interesting. Three well-written paragraphs with a headline pasted into an email is how this season's best-dressed news releases are stepping out."

Action for Children's head of PR and engagement, David Hamilton, says that while the context may have changed, the need for press releases has not: "The key is to make sure that they are part of a proper strategy and are a supplement to, not a substitute for, proper relationships with journalists."

McLeod points to the need to have press releases to publish market-sensitive information on RNS in the UK (the service for regulatory news announcements). He adds: "A lot of matters of record, such as legal disputes, will require the issuing of a joint statement. It is also a very effective way of publishing news, particularly reacting to an event."

McLeod also questions the worth of Amazon's 14 tweets and argues that it might have been easier to have compiled this information in one place.

"Press releases in the form of lengthy, self-important, no-news-included attachments are indeed dead," says Morgan.

Yet it was ever thus.

A news story is a news story regardless of how it is presented. So discussions over the "death" of the press release are really about the shift in approach to comms - one in which personalisation and tailoring become more important.

"PR professionals need to change their psyche and realise they can blog or tweet with a link, which might be better than a press release," says Lewis-Jones.

PR professionals still need to inform journalists of news: the methods used for this process will naturally vary according to particular needs.

The press release is dead. Long live the press release.

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