The press release is dead. Or so proclaimed Alex Aiken, the executive director of government comms, at a the PRCA’s National Conference.

This isn’t really anything new and one of my favourite lines that came in response was Rich Leigh’s one comparing it to the Jesus like Kenny’s ability to be reborn.

Now Rich is right and the PR industry has been navel gazing on this for a very long time – if not for the entire 12 years that I’ve been in PR, then certainly since I came back from my PhD in 2006.

And it’s not dead – certainly not in the electronics industry – as it is by far and away the easiest way to convey everything that needs to be said about a product in a format that is accepted by journalists that can then be then either completely re-written, linked to from Twitter / summaries, adapted / sub edited or just lazily reprinted by a publication.

But, in reality, does it do anything?

By comparing activity with spikes in traffic you can tell what is and isn't working

By comparing activity with spikes in traffic you can tell what is and isn’t working

A few months back I blogged on our in house evaluation into which publications drove traffic to the client’s website. This suggested (it was only one client and therefore not necessarily true – but still valid) that only tier 1 publications and vertical titles helped. This backs up my gut feeling that getting coverage in Bicycle Repair Monthly, while adding to my clippings report, does very little to sell products (unless they’re selling electronic gear shifter components, that is).

But the need to deliver content, or more accurately be seen by Google to deliver lots of content, has meant that even the tier 1 titles have turned to the art of pasting even the most turgid of releases. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very nice that a trusted magazine re-prints verbatim my (excellent and in no way turgid) press release with some or all of its marketing hype intact. But in doing so they weaken their credibility and that just means the effect of appearing in The-Most-Awesome-Of-Electronics Magazine will have a limited effect now (and no effect in future years) in driving traffic to the website.

Thankfully, things are changing and Google’s revisions are making it tougher to simply duplicate content on the web. That doesn’t mean that all are changing their habits but from conversations with editors from two of the leading US titles (Electronics Design and EE Times) suggest that they’re changing their priorities and the press release may be indeed be dead (again).

Highlighting this change best is EE Times, who is cutting (decimating* even) its press release coverage. Its power editor, Rich Pell, for example is solely doing a summary of the top announcements of the week.

Now I’m not going to lie – this change has a massive effect on the traffic that any given release has on website traffic. And when I saw this I was rather glum.

But, it just means that we need to spend a little more time and effort to come up with unique angles for news stories and / or articles that will help the most influential publications drive coverage to their website – and then, of course, onto our clients’… we’re not a charity, after all.

So what does this mean for PR agencies and electronics companies?

Well, it depends. There will be diminishing returns by simply blasting out a press release, and hoping that some of it sticks. Yes, you might get some clips, but will they help your business if all they’re doing is reprints of your marketing material?

Instead, it lets PR agencies focus on what they do (or should do) best. Creating interesting, readable copy and then giving this on an exclusive basis for the publications that help your business.

Time is limited and budgets are limited. This just means that you’ll need to prioritise the publications… so the first step is to undertake meaningful evaluation. This doesn’t just mean how many clips each press release got – you can get hundreds by firing out on BusinessWire with no effect on business – but instead figuring out what has an effect on your business objectives – this can be web traffic, it can be how many tweets you get, or any other one of the near countless metrics out there. Then, if the numbers back up a hypothesis that press releases do nothing for the bottom line – and I doubt the numbers will say this – let it die.



*For the pedants out there, yes, I know this means cut by a 10th