To Press Release or Not to Press Release

Press releases have a lot in common with Mickey Rourke. Like the oft-surgerized former heartthrob, they’re abused and misunderstood, but still capable of getting the job done when properly deployed. 

Alas, “properly deployed” does not describe the vast majority of press releases blasted out into the ether today. Too many are sent without purpose. Most are edited by committees (that include lawyers) who make them sound the same. The lion’s share are chock full of crap.

My hope here is to clarify the reasons for issuing a press release so that your DIY PR efforts stay on track. There are three main reasons for sending out a press release:

1) You want media coverage and need to communicate with many outlets at once. Ivy Lee, often considered the father of modern public relations, is credited with issuing the first press release in 1906 following a train derailment involving his client, the Pennsylvania Railway Co. Due to the tragedy and loss of life, Lee had good reason to send out a release. While your news may be less macabre, it still needs to be NEWSWORTHY to the media you’re contacting. So, if you’ve really built a better mousetrap, go ahead and send a press release. But if you expect media to care that you’ve hired Mr. X to be the new middle manager of your Midwest sales division, don’t expect saturation coverage. 

If you’re new to PR, know this: the best coverage you’re going to get won’t be from a press release you’ve mass blasted over the wire. PR is craft best conducted one to one, by parties who know each other and have a relationship. Before you go sending a release to everyone and their grandmother, think about the media you really care about and approach them with a tailored offering that makes them feel as though they’re getting something unique. You’ll be happier with the coverage nine times out of ten.

2) You’re serious about SEO. Press releases, in the traditional sense, are an media outreach tool. The goal being that a publication picks up a release, calls someone from your company for comment, and you then score earned media coverage.

However, in the digital age, newswire distribution services like PRWeb, Cision and CNW have taken on a new purpose. They allow organizations to improve search engine rankings via web distribution, backlinks and keyword optimization of releases.

Without going into excessive detail, sending a keyword optimized press release via these providers can lead to inbound links and increase visits to your site dramatically. You don’t necessarily have to send releases intended for search engine optimization to reporters and editors. 

3) You want to talk directly to a community and know its lingo. According to Nielsen, the unique audiences of Yahoo News and Google News now rival those of traditional outlets like CNN and the BBC. And while no one would claim the former have anywhere near the credibility of the latter, people are constantly using search engines to find out about topics they’re interested in.

A fellow PR pro, Frank Strong, Director of Communications at Vocus, summed up the keys of these “not for the media” releases succinctly: You must know your audience (and how they search); you’re more likely to succeed if you tap into trends; and timing is of the utmost importance.

This piece, on Andrea Petersen of Queen Bee Tickets, is an excellent example of how to write a “not for media” press release that speaks directly to a community, leverages the power of search and drives sales.

Next time you or your colleagues get the urge to send a press release out to half the world, pause for second. Then ask what the purpose of the release is. If you truly have news, perhaps one to one, tailored PR is the route. If you’re after search rankings or connection with prospects, ask if you have the SEO and audience knowledge to meet your objectives.

Whatever you do, don’t fall victim to committees of corporate editing teams who invariably create vanilla sounding releases that all read the same way. After all, the whole idea is to stand out (though not necessarily in the same way as Mickey Rourke on a big night out). 

Jackson Wightman is a Montreal based PR agency owner. He recently created MakePR, an integrated online program of study that teaches small businesses and startups how to score media coverage on their own, without the help (or expense) of PR pros. MakePR’s program features guest experts including PR agency owners, bestselling authors, and journalists from the Globe and Mail, National Post,, Flare, LOULOU, and PR Daily. Readers of Notable are invited to subscribe to the course for $148 off using the coupon code NOTABLE.