Thursday, May 08, 2008

The slow death of the press release

People often ask me why Mozilla doesn't put out more press releases or why the releases that we do put out are relatively short and news-driven. I then proceed to pull out my PR soapbox and spout off about the changing face of media and the need for PR to adapt beyond methods that are at best unproductive, and at worst detrimental to the entire industry. That's good for drunken debates at PRSA events but not quite palatable for everyone. When I'm talking to non-PR people, I typically illustrate the concept by telling a story about my early days in PR.

In 1999, I was an intern on the Tech, Telecom, and Energy team at a global PR firm's DC office. Part of my job was to fax press releases to editorial teams at newsrooms nationwide. I would spend hours punching in the phone numbers of major newspapers and publications for a fax blast (anyone remember those?). I later heard from reporters that at the other end of the transmission, they had the incoming faxes feeding straight into a garbage can. They would use the discarded press releases as scrap paper.

I love this story for two reasons. One, it explains the immediate failing of the press release; pushing news to people without any context or expressed interest is ineffective. Two, it illustrates the ever-changing face of media and the need for PR to adapt or get sucked into the newsroom garbage can (or its modern equivalent, the editor's spam folder).

Back in October, Chris Anderson of Wired and Long Tail fame, posted a scathing indictment of the PR industry. His complaint? Being blasted with news that he didn't request and wasn't interested in receiving.

I've had it. I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn't spam (Cloudmark Desktop solves that nicely), it's PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can't be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they're pitching.

I am certainly not the first person to assert that the golden age of the lengthy mass-blast press release was coming to a close. Flickr has long been a leader in the movement to move PR beyond the press release. In early 2004, they began blogging their announcements in lieu of a traditional wire release. Tom Foremski wrote a post about this in 2006 but the progress has been slow. Two years later, social news releases are starting to gain traction but they tend to look like deconstructed versions of standard news releases.

Perhaps we are in the Web 1.0 phase of the press release. When corporate content first appeared on the Web, most companies modeled their online presence after offline norms. Businesses took their existing marketing materials and simply put them online. Mainstream media did pretty much the same thing with early online news sites. Today, the Web has progressed far beyond that. Offline ported to online does not equal Web presence. Considering this, how do we advance our understanding of PR?

At Mozilla, when we put out press releases they are often coupled with blog posts and/or FAQs in order to provide context or quick fodder for right click journalists looking for a quote. They offer a voice, a perspective, a point of view. Traditional press releases, by nature of their construct, simply cannot compete with the rich, interactive experience of the Web.

The PR industry needs to revisit the concept of the next generation press release more than once every few years. Media is always changing. PR needs to keep pace or it will go the way of fax blasting: still around but completely out of touch with the modern era.


Unknown said...

Great post Melissa. You are right - PR is still in its early stages with regard to social media and the Web.

We are all looking forward to the creating the next gen PR and enjoying ride!


Webmaster said...

I have to agree PR is in its baby stages, business cards don't move, we still use paper when we should move onto re-usable tablets and business cards that either are holographic or have a chip in them so they change. I think that PR for companies should be something like need to contact me Webcam me then you just filter out who you want to talk to or have one hour when you are accepting webcam PR chats.