Back in the early 1990s, I worked from home, editing Industrial Technology magazine, and every couple of days I would collect a large sackful of mail from the sorting office which would contain over 100 press releases. And this was just in our field of mechanical and electrical design engineering. We detected the number falling away slightly by the early 2000s, but by then, as Editor of Engineeringtalk, I was offering a new incentive for press release submission in the form of guaranteed publication, so this kept the numbers up. We would fairly consistently publish 50 press releases a day there.
Now I understand there are very few, if any, worthwhile places where you stand a decent chance of getting a press release published for free. So I wonder if it’s even worth producing them any more? If most marketing activities are anything to go by, even if the press release has become a waste of time, I realise that it’ll still carry on for a number of years through sheer inertia. I’m quite aware that most marketing managers have to keep one eye on their own MD, whose idea of marketing will always be ten years behind the times. But the press release’s lifespan is ending, even if it hasn’t quite passed completely.
Many companies who continue to devote resources to the press release say: “Aha, we know that we’re not writing for editors any more, because there’s so little trade press left, but we’re writing directly for customers”. Indeed, this direct-to-customer initiative is exactly what we helped introduce with the Pro-Talk websites. That’s a reasonable argument, until you come to read the press releases still being produced, which are usually still produced in a style more appropriate to editors than customers. The best press releases I received as an editor effectively sold me the reason why my magazine would be improved by publishing this. The language and the illustrations were designed to look good in a magazine. You wouldn’t have sent that stuff to a customer then, and you shouldn’t now. If you’re writing directly for the market, instead of for an editor, then write directly for the market. If the most important place where your “press release” is going to appear is going to be your own website, then write it as a product announcement aimed at users in the first place, and stop kidding yourself that it’s going to appear on the front page of the Financial Times.
If you’ve got any thoughts on this, and I’m sure some of you will, then please do comment on our website.