The press release isn’t dead, it just needs to work a lot harder

6th December 2014

By Jess Devonport

Digital PR continues to rise, and the poor press release has been declared officially dead several times over. However, we still hear from journalists that a good press release is all they’re really looking for.

So, which is it? Is a release the best way to get your story into the media, or has social media given us a better way to reach our audience?

There’s more than one way to tell a story

Image credit: Diana Robinson, Flickr

Image credit: Diana Robinson, Flickr

The most important thing is the story, not the press release; it seems simple but it can be easy to forget. Not every story is suited to the mainstream press, but just because it isn’t newsworthy doesn’t mean it isn’t good enough.

Making use of your own established channels can be perfect for niche stories that aren’t quite right for the media. Colin Smith explained how, at Imperial College, they  create a “media package” around each story. Multimedia content, such as infographics, videos, and podcasts provide background information, interviews with the researchers, and quick facts and figures, in an easy to digest way. It also helps that this sort of content is popular and easy to share on social media.

All this content shouldn’t take tonnes more time and effort, much of it will be generated through the process of developing the press release. For example, time spent talking to the researchers about the story could easily form the basis of a podcast or blog post, which supports the release.

The power of the exclusive

Sometimes, one good piece of in-depth coverage can be more valuable than several smaller items; this is where the exclusive comes into its own – the trick is knowing when to use it.

Emma Griffiths, from the Government Office for Science, said she preferred to use exclusives when her stories needed an extra “push”; when she wants to add a bit of personality to the story and add an extra dimension to by involving key researchers or MPs. Her top tips for using  exclusives were:

1. Make sure you know the journalist well, and pitch your exclusive accordingly.

2. Broadsheets and tabloids often think of themselves as separate entities, so it’s possible to offer the same exclusive to both as they will cover it in different ways, but always be upfront about things when you do this.

3. Don’t play favourites. It’s important to maintain a good relationship with your journalists, so share your exclusives equally.

Be the third point of information

Steve Palmer from Cancer Research UK made the interesting point that we are all news outlets now, and getting your story out through your organisation’s website and digital channels is just as important as getting it in the press. People triangulate information, so they might hear about it via social media, then read the news item, and then go to you, the source, for more information.

It’s important for your audience to always be able to find their way back to you, and give them the opportunity to engage with you first-hand. This is why digital has become so powerful in PR, social media enables us to join together all the different facets of the story. A digital story has a much longer shelf-life, because even when the news cycle has moved on, your audience will still be able to find it online.

So, if the press release isn’t dead, maybe it’s hit middle age; it’s a gone bit soft around the middle and isn’t quite able to pack the same punch it once did. It seems that we shouldn’t abandon the press release just yet, but we shouldn’t rely on it to do all the work either, digital has given us so many more options and ways to get our science stories out there.

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