One of the first things they teach you in a college PR class is how to write a press release. You learn how to formulate an engaging headline, the basics of AP Style, the “inverted pyramid” approach and the importance of a boilerplate. After all is said and done, most college students seeking a career involving public relations or journalism walk away from class with a firm handle on writing a press release — one of the core tools of any copywriter’s arsenal.
But here’s the catch: they rarely teach you what to do with that press release. In fact, most people are stumped when you ask them just what happens to a press release once it’s out in the wild.
In the old days
Back in the days when you could drink a glass of scotch at your desk in the newsroom,press releases made the world go round. A hot, new press release would come in through the wire, an eager journalist would snap it up and turn it to news by the 5:00 news or when the paper went to print.
This was a clear and concise process, from beginning to end, in the time before the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. A press release writer would gather information about a newsworthy subject, package it in an easily digestible format and get it out to news organizations with the intent on seeing that news within a day of releasing it. And that was that!
In the modern media
Today, press releases are not as clear-cut as they used to be. By virtue of the Internet, just about anyone can write and distribute a press release these days— and they do. Log on to any of the major press release distribution platforms and you’re bound to get an eye full of news from all four corners of the globe.
Sure, you’ll still find releases from major corporations, announcing a new product or groundbreaking shift in business, but, you’ll also find releases about the local dog breeder’s fall puppy specials, a carpet company’s new color selections and “news” about an up-and-coming blogger whose website just hit 1,000 visitors.
All of these releases and the ease with which people are able to distribute them has done two things: (1) It has made press releases less effective as direct PR tools and (2) it has made them more effective as content marketing tools.
What does this mean?
If you’re thinking of sending out a press release and seeing it featured on Google News or in the business section of the New York Times’ online edition, think again. Unless you’re sitting at the helm of a PR department at a Fortune 500 company, the odds of you seeing your press release in either of these places is probably about as good as winning the lottery (and just as beneficial if you do happen to get published).
Remember, editors still control which releases are deemed worthy of being turned into stories or republished. The big-name publications typically only care about the big-name companies, so unless you’re a startup in Silicon Valley with huge promise and venture-backed funds on your side, it’s a long shot to the front page of Google News.
But fear not — there is hope for organizations of all sizes to find success with press release writing.
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and Google’s fantastic focus on content analysis, sending out a press release still offers a number of key benefits. Properly written releases with relevant content and optimized keywords — generally done by an experienced copywriter who understands the ins and outs of formatting — can help your online marketing efforts.
Well, as soon as that press release hits one of the many available wires, Google will begin to rank it for content and keywords, directly deriving value from its content rather than picking it up off a big-time news site.
As your organization distributes more and more press releases, you’ll gain merit from Google. The search giant will begin to classify your brand as an expert or credible news source the more it’s able to rank your press releases and, as time goes on, you’ll find that your overall Google ranking may go up. Sooner or later, you’ll start seeing your press releases in more places because everyone loves to link to a credible source.
And that’s the news!
In an industry where credibility is king and the web facilitates a vast majority of news, the purpose and life cycle of a press release has changed. Sending out a release is still about getting the news to the right people, but on the way, it becomes a finely tuned content marketing machine that can drive more than just a story — it can drive your brand’s identity by turning you into a credible online source.
You may never see your company’s name at the top of Google’s newsfeed, but given the right approach and some careful analysis, you could just see an influx of traffic to your website as people begin to familiarize themselves with you and your offerings.
Kyle Danowski is a senior editor with ProPRcopy, a firm offering high-quality, affordable copywriting services for press releases, articles, website copy, blog content and more.