[Please note: This post is a guest contribution from a dissertation student, Kate Talbot.]
Someone once told me that the relationship between journalists and PRs is like an alcoholic who does not know he/she is addicted. I am fond of this metaphor, probably because I am in the PR industry and despite journalists telling us constantly we are an unnecessary intermediary, it allows the PR professional a moment of satisfaction.
I also liken this metaphor to the relationship between a journalist and a press release. It is not uncommon to come across journalists who despise press releases. Come to think of it, there are a few PR practitioners who aren’t that keen either, so why does the press release dominate media relations tactics?
I have heard a couple of stories concerning stupid PR people sending over press releases or making sell in phone calls to a journalist who writes in a completely different subject area. Yes, this is a waste of everybody’s time and the good practitioners will not be making these kinds of mistakes.
Although it seems to generate some annoyance, the press release is a useful communications tool.
The fact of the matter is, the press release (if written well) is an easy way to communicate all the facts on a topic, company or news item, giving a journalist the opportunity to use the release to generate a story. Investigative journalism is a skill that cannot be lifted from a press release but when simple facts about a company or product are needed, a press release is one of the easiest, most reliable places to get them from.
Media is evolving online and sources of information are much more widely available, however this is not a reason for the press release to die a death. The internet and corporate blogs can be used to gain information from a more direct source than the PR agency behind the brand but that’s not the single use of a press release. A press release can break news to a journalist that is not available over the internet or anywhere else.
Press releases need to be more targeted and PR practitioners must take into account new information sources available to journalists to ensure consistency of messages throughout all corporate publication, whether online or in print.
I think the next few years will see change in media relations, for example the targeting of social media such as blogs and in turn the monitoring of this media, but one thing I think will remain secure is the press release. As technology develops the format of the press release may change as it has from post, to fax, to email, however the objective of the release will remain the same – an exchange of information with a journalist in the hope that they will write about it.