COMMENT: Thought Leader - Out with the old, in with the new: thepress release gets a 21st century facelift

"I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs.

"I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs.

So wrote John Adams about Thomas Paine and his pamphlet Common Sense. With its incredible persuasiveness and clarity of style, Paine's pamphlet might well have been the first press release. Then again, Edward Bernays might well have issued the inaugural press release shortly after he opened the world's first PR firm in 1919.

Regardless of who issued the first one - Paine or Bernays - both releases had one thing in common: They were text-only documents. And text-only press releases remained the staple for virtually all of the 20th century.

But times they are a-changin'.

Why? The web. No longer are press releases just for the media. Today they reach consumers and investors directly. Press releases were always aimed primarily at newspapers and trade titles, which would interpret them, write what they wanted, and this is what the public would read.

But with the web, the gatekeeper is gone, the target audience can now see the press release in its original full-text format on a variety of websites.

Dot-com companies were the first to recognize this phenomenon and use press releases as marketing tools, often in lieu of ads. Despite the dot-com implosion, their use of the press release as a marketing tool has withstood the test of time.

Interactivity is what the new, smarter, more robust press release is all about. The smart news release is, more than ever before, eye-catching.

It utilizes multimedia elements (photos, logos, charts, slide shows, audio, visual, and flash) to supplement the basic text-based press release.

The bottom line is that websites need content, and will use it more often if sent with multimedia. A picture is indeed worth 1,000 words, and this has never been truer than with the web. Web audiences are a show-me, don't tell-me crowd. Selling a CD? Post it on the web so your target audience can listen to it. Marketing a film? Post a trailer on the web for audiences to see. Think about it. You're surfing the web and you see endless lines of text. What do you do? Most often, you keep surfing. But you see a story complete with photos, video links, and the like, you'll likely stop, read, watch, and listen. You expect a web-friendly experience. You demand it.

But it is not just online audiences that are demanding more. Journalists also want more than just text. They want a variety of multimedia assets to accompany the press release. Why would anybody send out a press release about a new product or promotion announcement without a photo of the item or person? You have to build a news package around the press release.

Editors will more likely use your press release if it is more comprehensive.

And even if The New York Times can't place video on its pages, a press release with a video link simply tells the story better. Although there is no analytical data yet available, odds are press releases with photos or logos are more likely to be used by publications.

This will become even more important in the future - the near future.

With NewsML technology, it will be easier than ever before to meta-tag a press release with various multimedia elements making it as simple as 1-2-3 for editors to download the multimedia that suit their needs.

The new-generation press release will become a crucial marketing tool offering many ways to access information. It stands to reason. Most big PR firms are owned by ad agencies that are run by marketing people. Why not use a press release to sell product? It's an ideal e-commerce tool.

You can embed within the release product fact sheets, brochures, video clips, even order forms. This also helps drive traffic back to the individual company's home page.

And you'll be able to measure results. Who accessed the press release, for instance? Additionally you can add surveys to the press release to get an instant response to crucial issues.

The question isn't if the press release has changed. It clearly has, and it will keep evolving into a smart multimedia and interactive tool.

The real question is: will the PR industry respond to and embrace the changes? I've been quoted as stating that "my biggest complaint has been how slowly the PR industry responds to technological advances.

I stand by that statement.

Companies introducing this new technology can do just that: introduce it. The PR industry must embrace it. Innovative PR pros have already done so. I am convinced others will follow. The question is how quickly?

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