Why Bad Press Releases Harm the PR Profession…and its’ Clients

posted by on November 30 2010 in Public Relations Strategy - 6 Comments

It happened again in a meeting last week. Someone mentioned the dreaded phrase.

I felt itchy and sort of annoyed, the way you do when you’re beginning to get sick. But I wasn’t. I was just having my typical reaction to the words “press release.”

Historically, B2B press releases have been developed to announce some form of news, from significant executive “hires” to major business transactions to the results of a proprietary study. Most of the time, these are still logical reasons to consider writing a press release.

Unfortunately, business to business companies often use press releases to announce their news-that-isn’t-really-news. I bet you’ve seen an example or two of that. We’ve been asked to write releases about minor product upgrades, new vendor relationships, reactions to competitor moves, new methodologies (without proof points) or even to “rehash” an industry conference.

Let’s be honest. That’s not news – it’s turning your marketing to-do list into a series of announcements.

No wonder reporters are so cynical about internal and external PR professionals. And that cynicism is likely to increase as PR 2.0 continues to evolve.

Now the media has more opportunities to question your company’s marketing motives and intentions: company blogs, guest posts, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter updates and, yes, social media news releases, are all ripe for criticism.

Simply put, the digital PR environment requires companies to refocus on 1) developing the right content for 2) the right vehicle.

Here are the questions I try to ask to clients determine if a press release is appropriate:

  1. Is the news significant? Rate it on a scale of 1-10. Everything below an “8” is not worthy of a release.
  2. What is our objective in announcing this news? Could it still be achieved without a press release? For example, would offering an “exclusive” to a journalist be an acceptable substitute?
  3. Can we tie our news to other stories that are already being reported on? Do we have a chance of becoming part of as trend? If the answer is yes, we may only need a good media “pitch, not a release.
  4. Is it unique? Is it news that only the company can share? (Ahem, this still does not mean we should issue a press release.)
  5. Given our current projects, do we have the team bandwidth to focus on this? Press releases are notorious “time sucks” that require multiple edits and authors. The worst part? All those “cooks in the kitchen” produce a very weak, diluted broth.


There is still a place for press releases in your PR toolkit. But I hope you’ll consider using it much less often. You don’t need it to make your news – and content – shine.

Now you know that I believe there are few reasons to write press releases anymore. When do you think it makes sense?

Photo by Tom (hmm a rosa tint)

To reach Elizabeth:

Phone: 212.840.0017
Email: elizabeth@blisspr.com
Twitter: @elizabethsosnow
LinkedIn: Elizabeth Sosnow

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6 Comments on "Why Bad Press Releases Harm the PR Profession…and its’ Clients"
  1. Laura Scholz
    11/30/2010 at 1:36 PM Permalink

    Great post, Elizabeth! I think we’ve all had those news release happy clients that make us want to bang our heads against the wall in frustration. Thanks for offering some concrete solutions to those cringe-worthy moments!

  2. Ted Weismann
    11/30/2010 at 6:15 PM Permalink

    Elizabeth – Interesting post that raises very valid points about when to move ahead with a press release. I don’t disagree with you that we need to use press release carefully with the media and professional bloggers, but it does raise another question for me about what should be considered news and for whom.

    It sparked a blog post, so thanks very much for that. http://blog.loispaul.com/blog/2010/11/what-defines-news-in-the-new-age-of-pr.html

  3. Elizabeth Sosnow
    12/01/2010 at 8:34 AM Permalink

    Thanks, Laura. Yep, I’ve definitely had a few head-bangers, too. The truly curious thing is that some clients don’t understand that issuing a release could actually harm or minimize their chances of getting the story that they want. Most simply don’t realize how much the media dislikes and actively avoids almost all news releases…

    I think a little bird told me it was your birthday today – if they are right, here’s hoping you have a wonderful one :)

  4. Michelle Esso
    12/01/2010 at 8:56 AM Permalink

    Elizabeth, great post. I wholeheartedly agree. The digital PR environment not only offers opportunities for the media to question our motives, but it also provides PR practitioners a variety of avenues through which they can communicate and market themselves without issuing a press release. The press release is no longer the “go-to” method for generating publicity. Now there are so many more appropriate and creative methods. It’s time for organizations to let go of their old ways of thinking and embrace the new world of PR.

  5. Elizabeth Sosnow
    12/01/2010 at 9:18 AM Permalink

    Hi Ted:

    I really enjoyed your post & thanks for stopping by to visit mine. As discussed on your blog, I am a major fan of using the right search terms in a press release…but I’m an even bigger fan of focusing your terms into new kinds of content.

    The PR profession has an important opportunity to help our clients move beyond the tactics of yesterday. For example, maybe we should focus on creating a video instead of that press release? If we tagged it with the right terms, we have a chance to go farther and deeper than almost any press release could…


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