A Creative Mix of Old and New: The Evolution of the News Release

March 2, 2016

[jamie jones/ikon images/corbis]
[jamie jones/ikon images/corbis]

This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the PRSAY blog on Jan. 28.

Let’s face it: Public relations has gotten more complicated. The increased integration of brand campaigns, combined with new challenges in other media buckets (blocked ads anyone?), means that public relations plays a greater role in the marketing mix. In part, that’s because public relations excels at amplifying digital and interactive approaches through social, visual storytelling and content creation.

But where exactly does the little old news release fit into this big, dynamic mix? Is it dead? Or is it alive, kicking butt and taking names?

To gain a solid understanding of the role of news releases in the modern newsroom, PWR New Media went to the target audience: journalists. We surveyed more than 220 journalists to find out if, and how, they use releases, what they want from them, what role social plays and more.

Here’s the upshot: News releases aren’t merely alive. When well executed, releases can help brands amplify messages more effectively than ever before. Basically, news releases rock.

The most important thing hasn’t changed, though. Growing relationships matter, and thoughtfulness pays off. If you give journalists what they want, how they want it and make it easier for them to do their jobs, then your brand will earn more positive coverage.

Many other familiar guidelines still matter as well. Write well, include contact info, target wisely — relevance is key to growing any online relationship — and keep subject lines and headlines honest and concise.

But giving journalists what they want isn’t what it used to be. The most relevant, well-written news release in the world won’t get you where you want to go if you simply put it on the wires as a plain text release. The bar on releases has gotten much higher. And a creative approach is needed.

Transferable and creative content

Our survey confirmed that journalists rely on PR pros and news releases to do their jobs, and a majority of our respondents told us that they find releases very useful. When asked if they want to hear from PR professionals — even those they don’t know — 84 percent of journalists said yes.

How do they want to hear from you? Email. Ninety-one percent of respondents said that it is their preferred distribution method for news releases. But what’s growing is their need for releases loaded with transferable content. (This is where the creativity kicks in.)

The five highest-rated assets by respondents were: relevant background, bios and supporting info (82 percent), high-res and downloadable images (78 percent), verbiage that can be cut and pasted from a release (59 percent), low-res images (46 percent) and relevant infographics (45 percent). But we’ve seen great success with some creative approaches such as functional animated maps, pairing guides or graphics, well-designed and tweetable pull quotes, illustrated video and more.

Amplified brand stories

Handing journalists easy access to transferable brand content actually increases your brand’s chances of getting pickup. For example, 74 percent of journalists stated that they were more likely to cover a news release if it included easy access to hi-res photos.

“Links to downloadable photos are very useful,” said one journalist in the survey. “You can’t always reach a company’s communications staff as quickly as needed. Having high-res photography immediately available greatly increases a company’s chance of being featured, as we often need content at odd hours.”

And this makes sense, because journalists are balancing a decline in staff support with an increase in publication demands. In fact, 75 percent of our respondents said they are now responsible for creating online content, even though the majority named print as their dominant medium.

That’s why savvy communications teams are crafting and sharing visually engaging, transferable content with the media. Digital releases received via email make it easy for journalists to find, grab and reuse content. And handing journalists content is a great way to amplify a brand story. PWR New Media tracks metrics for the many releases that we create and send on behalf of our clients. We also find that releases that are rich in visual and multimedia assets and tell a compelling brand story get more traction, especially when brands enable the media to easily grab and reuse the content.

Social and search

It’s worth noting that less than 1 percent of journalists said they prefer to receive news releases via social media or traditional wire services. But they are using social and search, along with their own inboxes, for research. Our respondents cited search (83 percent), their own inboxes (67 percent) and social media sites (47 percent) as the top-three places they mine for story ideas. And while email is their preferred method of communication, social is also a great way to stay in touch. The survey found that journalists keep an eye on social sites for story ideas through Facebook (79 percent), Twitter (63 percent) and LinkedIn (53 percent).

Highly effective news releases aren’t just delivered to targeted inboxes and loaded with useful content; they are also well branded. As it turns out, journalists are people too — they‘re visually wired and respond to well-designed and well-organized releases.

And the audience for a news release goes beyond the media. News releases now reach influencers, stakeholders, curious consumers and customers, and the socially active looking for news to share with their networks. In the world of merged media, branding matters. (So brand your brand, not your vendors!)

Malayna Evans, Ph.D.

Malayna Evans, Ph.D., is a managing partner at Chicago-based PWR New Media, specializing in helping communications professionals craft digital content and tell brand stories. Connect with her on Twitter @Malayna.

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