In public relations, we can talk about the impact of digital technology until we become breathless with excitement. So much is changing and being discarded, but when all is said and done, the one PR tool that has stood the test of time is the humble press release.
Digital media communications is all the rage. Nevertheless the low cost press release even online, still remains an effective way to state your message to the public. No matter what industry you are involved in and no matter how small or big your company is, at any one time you can benefit from a press release. These days, releases also offer SEO (Search Engine Optimization) benefits once you consult with your digital team.

First crafted just over 100 years ago in the United States, the press release has evolved into one of the most convenient and rapid means for businesses, brands and institutions to reach their target audience through the media.
Credit for the innovation goes to Ivy Lee, an American publicist who in 1906 had Pennsylvania Railroad as his major client. A serious accident had occurred. But instead of waiting for the journalists to come and cover the event, Lee quickly put together a story from the perspective of his client (of course), which he then distributed to the media across America. Since then, press releases have been flying all over the place.

No exact figures are available, however, a couple of years ago, it was estimated that 73 go out every hour in the US alone. That is about one a minute!
Due to the basic nature of what a press release is, it comes as no surprise that this material is not universally liked. While some releases are real gems of information, others are bland and boring, usually biased and self-serving. They lack context and personality, ending up as a poor excuse for news.

Editors tend to read them with skepticism, even sometimes horror and always the overriding the question: so what? At best, a reporter would then be told: ‘Give me a story out of this press release’. This means reducing 800 or 900 words into a 300 usable piece for publication.
The point here is simple-as Ami Neiberger-Miller puts it, ‘In an ideal world, your news release should make the job of the journalist easier. Not inflict stress’.

Putting together a good useful press release first begins with the question: what do you want to say and is it important enough to go public? Is it NEWS?! Then decide who is going to write the release– in-house staff or your PR firm?
It is better not to lead with such pompous run-ins as, ‘We are proud to announce………..’ or ‘We are delighted to announce……’
Get to the point quickly, stay on point and avoid the temptation to veer into advertising.

But you can use plenty of quotes to underscore things you want highlighted. The other advantage about quotes is that journalists also like them, because it puts a stamp of authority and authenticity to your message. Besides giving some background about the company in the release also provide contacts. According to Katie Harris of Spot-On Solutions, “Even though the press release is technically about you, you have to remember it’s never really about you. It’s all about your customer. How does your award, new hire or event benefit them? It is critical to produce a press release that screams what’s in it for them.”

A major reason why press releases get frequently discredited is because a vast number of them are so poorly written, let alone offer little in terms of news value. PR firms often find it hard or simply neglect to tell clients, there is a distinct difference between news and hype.

About the Author: Mulinde Musoke

Mulinde has had a long and distinguished career in journalism. He received specialized training from Associated Press, The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Reuters and Thomson Foundation and headed up the Business Desk at The New Vision and later edited the Procurement News magazine and the East African Businessweek.

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