By Caroline Catterall and Jackson Stiles
To paraphrase Mark Twain: Reports of the media release’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Yes, owned media (like email marketing, branded websites and social) and internal channels (like intranets) are becoming more important as traditional media shrinks. And yes, this trend has been accelerated by COVID-19. But there is still a place for the humble media release. (Note we say ‘media release’ not ‘press release’ – the printing press is definitely headed for the junk heap.)
Cision PR Newswire, a New York company, sent over 100,000 media releases between June 2019 and June 2020 (with 48 per cent of all releases distributed by between March and May 2020 mentioning COVID-19).
Both of us continue to use media releases in our day jobs — one of us as CEO of a PR agency, and the other as a PR manager and former journalist used to wading through hundreds of crappy releases every day.
We both agree the release remains relevant because the media still matters. Journalists still rely heavily on email, and the media release fits this channel perfectly. Every story or campaign needs its ‘single source of truth’ — an approved document to refer back to that defines and ranks in order of importance a campaign’s key messages. A well-crafted media release can also easily be repurposed across multiple channels. For example, it can be quickly and cost-effectively turned into an intranet article for staff.
But a word of caution: boring, sloppy or outdated media releases ARE wasted effort. Those may as well be dead, buried and cremated because no journalist is going to find them useful.
So to help you, we’ve drawn on our collective experience in PR and journalism to give you ways to upgrade yours today.
Boring, wooden quotes are everything wrong with traditional media releases. Inject some colour. If you’re writing the release and quoting someone else, interview them and try to match how they actually speak. And yes, we know you have to quote your CEO or Executive but try quoting someone else for a change as well — a customer, a junior employee, a partner organisation. Be creative in who you quote, and with the words you put in their mouth.
It’s tempting to simply start writing and go where the page takes you. Resist this. You’ll get a much better end result through discipline and structure. A simple way to do this is to brainstorm all your possible key messages, then cull the ones that don’t work. Next, consult with key stakeholders around your organisation. Get them to help you rank which ones are most persuasive. Now you’ve got a key message framework. The number one most persuasive key message becomes your headline and lead paragraph. That’s one way to add rigour to the drafting process.
Always include a multimedia asset wherever you can: a photo, video footage, an infographic, or even just a hyperlink. When was the last time you saw a journalism article that didn’t have one of these? Digital elements are a must if you want to get noticed.
This is how journalists analyse a story, and you should too. For example, what was your last big scandal? Has anyone scooped your story? How will the timing of your announcement be perceived? What are your competitors doing? If you’re announcing data, have you considered seasonal factors such as Christmas spending? Context matters.
Yes, the age-old wisdom that you should always follow up a media release remains true. Your media release may not have been ignored, but buried under an avalanche of emails. And with journalists now more time poor than ever, you might want to go easy on the pestering phone calls. We’re both big fans of the text message. It gets your message across without taking up too much of the journalist’s time, and they can respond at their leisure.
A little about us: Caroline Catterall is CEO and Founder of Keep Left, a marketing communications agency based in Melbourne. Jackson Stiles is Public Relations Manager at ME Bank, a client of Keep Left. He is a former journalist, editor and consultant.