Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age should know better than to write “A Death Of…” piece so soon after the tired Wired declaration of the Internet’s demise. Could we put an end to “the death of” as a news device? This funny video points out how much Wired alone abuses the trope. Stylistic quibbles aside, I did feel a tinge of hope when I saw the object of Dumenco’s funeral march: the press release.
As a PR pro for almost 15 years, the press release and “relationship building” have been the two constants of my career. Relationship building is an art form. The press release is more Marcel Duchamp–stick a toilet on a platform and, “viola!” art! Yet, there are rigid rules for releases; rules I stuck to because when broken it made the release even worse, like taking a sledge hammer to the toilet. This is odd for me to say. I’m a rebel in the office. I take pride in learning the rules and strategically breaking most of them. Not so for the press release.
For instance, releases should be no more than two pages long, yet your client will INSIST on a six pager at least once in your career. What’s the big deal? Ask this question to a reporter on a deadline, a reporter who is teetering on the brink of a layoff and learning how to video edit at night because guess what, that’s part of the job now, too. Ask them how they feel about four fucking superfluous pages.
Another edict: don’t use flowery prose, let the reporter do the writing. So when the team behind “Spirit of the Dance” INSISTED that I use their headline for the local run of the show in our press materials, I did what any good publicist would do. I disobeyed them and gave my reporters what they wanted: just the facts. Thus, “Spirit of the Dance Steps To A Tenth Decade of Blockbuster Irish Magnificence–Three Electric Nights!,” never made the rounds in Tampa press circles. They really should’ve bought me more drinks, the eye bleeds I saved them from.
Yet even when the press release is done right, in its “inverted pyramid” most-important-info-first glory, I pretty much hate it. They are by nature utilitarian, and once you have built those relationships, a simple email or media alert (think calendar listing with a little fat) will suffice. Skewering the press release saves you the pain of a committee of editors ready to gouge eyes over magnificence v. grandeur.
And yet, I must disagree with Dumenco, because like an upended cockroach in Florida, the legs of the press release are still twitching.
Yes, even I will admit that when you’re dealing with a gigantic media list, a list so large you must tier your reporters in priority order (now there’s a FUN exercise), there is nothing quite so useful as a press release blast on the wire. If your client is looking for a high quantity of story placements, there is still no better tool. What about Twitter and Facebook? Ah, these fancy pants new media tools are quality pushers. I love them. Twitter is still a game for the techno-elite. This might change. Even Facebook is still limited. Do you really think Walt is going to notice your product promoting status update nestled in the sea of photos of his grandkids? Social media is an incredible new platform for relationship building, and it offers cool hybrids of broadcast and narrowcast media. Yet social media is not a blunt instrument. Getting your story picked up in the Paducah Post Gazette times 1,000 still requires a press release and a wire.
Believe me, I’m looking for the can of Raid, but in the immortal words of Python, “Not dead yet!”