State of the Press Release

Over the mast few months, several of my favorite journalists (like EDN's Mike Santarini and freelancer Chris Edwards in the UK) have made public statements about the atrocious state of news releases. Now having a newsman complain about news releases is not anything new. But the fact is, for the most part, I agree with them and have talked about it previously in this blog. Love them or hate them, news releases have been an important part of journalism for 100 years. They are not going anywhere, anytime soon so we may as well learn how to do them and use them properly. Edwards goes into a bit more detail where he stands on releases in this audio interview.
It may not be common knowledge for the press (in fact, I know it's not because when I tell them they are generally surprised), but news releases are considered to be legal documents for public companies (which is why some companies like Intel, make partner companies jump through hoops to be involved in them. Industry has decided to use news releases as their official communication to the world and to the press. Because of their legal status, that makes what can be said very narrow and sometimes boring. But it doesn't mean that they don't have some value.
Every pronouncement made by a company is important to someone in the world. The problem it may not be important to a lot of people in the world. And when your job is to be a "mass communicator" that means a small audience is not important.
So to all you professional communicators out there, when a journalist tell you that your announcement is worthless, that means he doesn't think his audience, in total, is going to care.
In spite of that, many publications' online sites, are filled with what Santarini calls "regurgitated" news releases. Why is that? Because the news team doesn't have time or manpower to research every company product announcement and company development. And publications that don't regurgitate are extremely limited in what they can cover because they lack the staff and time to do a truly comprehensive job. So they have to recycle the unimportant stuff in the possible event that this announcement might just be important, or risk ignoring something significant.
And the latter does happen. I least 12 times a year I get an email or phone call from a peeved journalist, who saw an article on a release I sent previews of to my top tier list, complaining that I hadn't informed him of the news. Then I get an uncomfortable silence when I mention the phone message or email I sent to him a month previous alerting him to the news. Since we are involved in sending out hundreds of announcements every year, a dozen peeved calls is a pretty good ratio. But at VitalCom, we understand that the ever-shrinking corps of journalists can't possibly know which announcement they ignore might come back to bite them. It's the way of life, I guess.
That's why it is important for every communications professional...and I include senior management of all technology companies in that description.... to understand the importance of clear communications. Learn to answer who, what, when, where, how and mostly why this bit of information is important. Today's news releases, for the most part are completely lacking in this basic approach to producing news.
Now does this mean that you will get more of your news picked up by the press? Not necessarily. But it will show that your communications practices are more in tune with what the press needs to see to consider you a valuable news source.
We need to break the deadlock between the press in the perception and use of news releases in the modern world of media. The press needs to know that they are a primary source of important, and real information and industry needs to understand what will make it relevant to the work the media is doing.
Let's get better at this.