Use press releases in moderation

It happens at pitches, at lunches, at parties... almost every time people talk to me about PR.

It happens at pitches, at lunches, at parties... almost every time people talk to me about PR.

The other person says, "So basically you send out press releases, right?" I then try to explain that PR is a lot more complicated and academic than people think, and that it involves much more than press releases. And maybe 10% of the time the message gets through.

But the truth is that far too many lazy practitioners use releases as a substitute for thoughtful, tailored communication and dedicated relationship cultivation with reporters. As an ex-journalist, I view the great majority of news releases as a waste of clients' money and a bad reflection on our profession, which, frankly, needs all the good PR it can get.

And, alas, our capacity for waste has skyrocketed with the advent of the Internet. The mass e-mails so easily sent out by some practitioners - who sometimes don't even bother to use a bcc field - have, mirabile dictu, made reporters even more antagonistic than ever toward us.

"I get 300 e-mails from PR people a day," a reporter friend tells me. I suspect that at least 200 of those e-mails are press releases, perhaps 10 of which are relevant to her beat. With such a heavy volume of mail facing them, is it any surprise that more and more reporters are keeping their fingers firmly planted on the delete button?

No, I'm not arguing that we shouldn't send out any press releases. Used appropriately and in moderation, they do have value. Now that many media outlets are online and offer 24/7 news and commentary, the demand for news is higher than ever.

Trade media certainly welcome relevant substantive releases, and, of course, many publish them verbatim. And even horizontal journalists - such as at The Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek - with whom you have a strong relationship are also likely to appreciate (and read) a release that updates them on significant developments in a sector they cover. It also reminds these journalists that you or your client may be a good source of commentary for related stories.

But let me repeat and accentuate my phrase from the previous paragraph: used appropriately and in moderation. We all know that major media rarely rely on releases for breaking news stories. So why clutter up their in-boxes? There is probably a simple inverse relationship between the number of press releases a top reporter receives and the respect he or she has for the PR profession. A lack of respect, in turn, leads to a lack of interest in what we have to say.

Of course, PR is much more than media relations, but that's still a large part of what we do. So I'm begging you: Severely limit the number of releases you send out, and send them only to those reporters for whom the information is relevant. Spend your time instead building one-on-one relationships with reporters and developing creative story angles, critical components of an effective media relations program.

This will be better for your clients, and for our industry's own appalling reputation. If I were still a journalist, I know that I'd welcome this altered approach - which would certainly be news to me.

David Grant is president of New York-based LVM Group.

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