Press Releases and the Journalistic Black Hole

Although I've been researching and writing my new book The New Rules of Marketing and PR for a few months now, it's only been a few days since I've been blogging snippets of the book for comment. What fun. Thanks to everyone who has read and commented so far. Remember, you have the opportunity to help shape this book and I appreciate it.

Here's a riff that that I've been using on the speaking circuit for years. I first put it onto (virtual) paper in my ebook The New Rules of PR: How to use press releases to reach your buyers directly.

Many people commented on the original ebook. Most people such as Seth Godin had good things to say. Others like Steve Rubel argued with me.

Now I have expanded on it based on much feedback to the e-book. What do you think?

Press Releases and the Journalistic Black Hole

In the old days, a press release was – shockingly – actually a release to the press.
Before the Web, everybody knew that the only reason you issued a press release was to get the media to write about you. Press releases evolved as an esoteric and stylized way for companies to issue "news" to reporters and editors. Because (it was assumed) nobody saw the actual press release except a handful of reporters and editors, these documents were written with the media’s existing understanding in mind.

In a typical case, a tiny audience of a several dozen media people got a steady stream of product releases from a company. The reporters and editors were already well versed on the niche market, so very little background information was supplied. Jargon was rampant. "What’s the news?" journalists would think as they perused the release. "Oh, here it is, the company just announced the Super Techno Widget Plus with a New Scalable and Robust Architecture." Huh? While this might mean something to a trade magazine journalist, it is just plan gobbledygook to the rest of the world. As press releases are now seen by millions of people who are searching the Web for solutions to their problems, these rules are obsolete.


> The only way to get ink was through the media.
> You communicated to journalists via press releases.
> Nobody saw the actual press release except a handful of reporters and editors.
> You had to have significant "news" before you were allowed to write a press release.
> Jargon was OK because the journalists all understand it.
> A release needed to include quotes from third parties, such as customers, analysts and experts.
> The only way your buyers would learn about the press release's content was if the media wrote a story about it.
> The only way to measure the effectiveness of press releases was through "clip books," which collected every time the media deigned to pick up your release.
> PR and marketing were separate disciplines run by different people with separate goals, strategies, and measurement

No More.

The Web has transformed the rules and you must transform your PR strategies to make the most of the Web-enabled marketplace of ideas.

The vast majority of organizations don't have instant access to mainstream media. People like you and me need to work hard to be noticed in the online marketplace of ideas. By understanding how the role of PR and the press release has changed, we can get our stories known in the marketplace.

There are some exceptions. Very large companies, very famous people, and governments are examples of organizations that might still be able to get away with using the media exclusively. The big, the powerful, and the famous still want the media to tell the story. These big name-brand people and companies are just so big or the news is jut so compelling that no effort is required. For these lucky few the media is the mouthpiece.

But for the millions of mere mortals out there like you and me, relying exclusively on the media not an option.

If you are JK Rowling and you issue a press release about, say, Harry Potter being killed in your last book, the news will be picked up by the media.

If Microsoft issues a release about Bill Gates stepping down as CEO of the company, the news will be picked up by the media.

If Brad Pitt and Angelenia Jolie issue a release about the naming their new cute little baby Shiloh, the news will be picked up by the media.

If you are smaller and less famous but have an interesting story to tell, you need to tell it yourself. Fortunately, the Web is a terrific place to do so.


To harness the power of the Web to reach buyers directly, you must ignore the old rules. Public Relations is not just speaking through the media, although the media remains an important component. Marketing is not just about one-way broadcast advertising, although it can be part of an overall strategy.

I've noticed that some marketing and PR professionals have a very difficult time changing old habits. These ideas make people uncomfortable. When I speak at conferences, often people fold their arms in a defensive posture and look down at their shoes. Marketing and PR people who learned the old rules naturally resist the new world of direct access. But I've also noticed that many marketing executives. CEOs, entrepreneurs, enlightened non-profit executives, and professionals jump at the chance to tell stories directly. These people love the new way of communicating to buyers. Smart marketers are bringing success to their organizations each and every day by communicating through the Web.

Here's how to tell if the new rules are right for you. You need to consider your goals for communicating via marketing and public relations. Why are you advertising? Is the reason you are doing that Super Bowl ad is to score great tickets to the game? Are you doing a creative magazine ad to win an award for your agency? And why are you doing PR? Is the reason you’re doing PR to create a book of press clips from mainstream media outlets to show your bosses? Is the reason you’re doing PR because the CEO wants to be on TV? Are you doing PR to meet Oprah? If the answers to these questions are "yes," then the new rules (and this book) are not for you.

However if you’re like millions of smart marketers whose goals are to communicate with buyers directly, then read on. If you’re working to make your organization more visible online then read on. If you want to drive people into your company’s sales process so they buy something (or apply, or donate, or join, or submit their name as a lead) then read on. I wrote this book especially for you.

David Meerman Scott

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