Press releases go the DTC route

Once written just for news outlets, many releases are now created with consumers in mind.

Once written just for news outlets, many releases are now created with consumers in mind.

The traditional press release has faced a lot of criticism of late, as well as a barrage of questions: Has it lost its appeal to journalists; does it effectively differentiate one product from the next; is it up to par with the technology of the times; and most important, what is the impact of the broadening of its audience beyond the media to the consumers themselves.

Some newswires and agencies have taken it upon themselves to offer a new sort of release that gives journalists and consumers alike the tools to access products in a way that the traditional news release didn't allow and that deals with some of the limitations of the traditional format.

"Now clients are cognizant of the whole world being able to see a release and that there is a whole new audience out there," says Brian Taylor, VP of marketing communications for US Newswire. "You can almost call it direct-to-consumer."

Paramount Classic, a division of Paramount Pictures that sells classic movies on DVD, is targeting film buffs with its releases by teaming up with Technorati and PR Newswire, thus reaching a new community of consumers who can connect to the content of these films through hyperlinks in the releases and perpetuate conversation about the films by joining online communities.

Including links in a press release is just one way that smart releases are reaching a wider audience. Most consumers don't read the wires, but many newswires are teaming up with search engines like Google and Yahoo to allow for maximum exposure through search engine optimization. This enables consumers to search a term on the Web and bring up press releases in the results, exposing consumers to "news" in its most raw form.

"Business Wire puts out a release for our clients, and it goes to Yahoo, Google, MSN, AOL, and this is where consumers are looking for news," says Michael Lissauer, EVP of marketing and business strategy for Business Wire. "The most important thing to our clients is seeing their release on these search engines. They know consumers go there. If they write a press release effectively, they can bypass the gatekeepers: the journalists, who always had the opportunity of interpreting the release how they wanted."

"There is a very informed, new breed of consumer that is relying on the content that is coming directly from the source," notes Dave Armon, COO at PR Newswire, of the content people are getting from RSS feeds and e-mail alerts. This technology has further expanded the audience of the news release, allowing consumers to know about products and events at the same time or even before the media do.

Allowing people to have a connection with the product is a key part of turning a viewer of your release into a consumer. Paolina Milana, VP of marketing and media relations at Market Wire, says: "PR pros need to have a much more integrated approach to their releases. It's no longer just 400 stagnant words, and that's it. Press releases now are links with visuals, audios, Web sites woven in; it's much more interactive for the consumer who is doing searches and looking for things that are much more engaging."

These multimedia releases offer PR pros the opportunity to take advantage of the Internet and the technology it has to offer, but reaching bloggers can be tricky. Bloggers, like the media, are gatekeepers of information, so using technology like RSS feeds and providing links to put into blogs are useful in reaching them.

"Bloggers, like reporters, do not want to be bombarded by useless information," adds Armon. PR pros have to target bloggers in the same way they would the traditional media, with news that is interesting and worth pursuing. Lissauer cites the problem with blogs as being that "90%-plus are a waste of time. They are just 16-year-old kids complaining about their feelings.

"I think this [new formatted release] means tremendous good things for PR," he continues, "[with] the caveat that the PR profession adapt to it and understand the opportunities that it has, particularly as a marketing tool. Right now, PR has a lot of opportunities to do integrated communications."


Technique tips

Do

Research your target audience and know its interests

Be creative with the photos you choose for use in a release

Use services like Digg.com, a news site where users choose the story, and del.icio.us, a social bookmarking tool


Don't

Use buzzwords or jargon when you're sending out a press release

Issue a release if you don't have actual news to tell

Just tell one side of a story. Make your release more like a news story

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