Setting the Record Straight: Press Releases that Stand Out in the Digital Age

Press releases are among the most widely used tools that PR professionals have in their tool kit, helping their clients win earned media, drive traffic and leads, and ultimately contribute to revenue. And yet, even within the industry there are a surprising number of misconceptions about them.

For example, some PR practitioners think that press releases have outgrown their usefulness because they assume that journalists no longer read them or that earned media no longer matters. Others believe that press releases should still be crafted in the same way that they were 20 years ago, when they often consisted of little more than some text and contact information. In reality, both of those perceptions are false.

Let’s set the record straight.

Earned media is still one of the most trusted sources that people turn to for information, and journalists still rely heavily on press releases to find the information that they report. In fact, according to a recent survey, 68% of journalists count press releases among their top sources for stories, with half of respondents noting that they checked wire services at least once a day1. And, while the majority of journalists depend on press releases, it’s also worth noting they’re not the only ones. These days press releases are also an effective way to reach a much broader audience that includes influencers, consumers, investors, analysts, and prospects.

And yet, even though press releases are effective at reaching larger, more diverse audiences than they used to be, the challenge is that today there is much more content competing for people’s attention than ever before. As a result, it can be very difficult to cut through all of the noise and ensure that your messages get heard.

When you combine that reality with the fact that there are also fewer journalists and media outlets, it means one thing: If you want earned media coverage, you’ve got to work smarter to ensure that your press releases rise above the fray and get people’s attention.

That’s where the second misconception comes into play. Since today’s press releases have to reach a higher bar to get people’s attention, they often can’t afford to be the static documents that they once were. Instead, they not only have to be as interesting and engaging as possible, but also easy for time-constrained journalists to use.

CVS Caremark, the retail pharmacy chain, provided a great reallife example of how to do this when it announced that it would be halting sales of cigarettes and all other tobacco products in its stores nationwide. Although an inherently newsworthy story in its own right, CVS was determined to not only amplify its message but also own the brand story around it. To do so, it issued a multimedia press release that consisted of a variety of additional useful elements, including:

  • A video of the CEO making a statement

  • B-roll footage of CVS stores

  • Photos of CVS executives

  • Infographics with stats supporting the decision

These high-resolution components not only provided the media with visuals that facilitated fast-breaking story coverage, but also helped ensure that journalists clearly understood CVS’s message and motivations. Within hours, the news had spread, with audiences around the country getting the exact message conveyed to them that the company had intended.

The CVS example illustrates why it’s important to look beyond the traditional perceptions of what press releases are supposed to be to figure out how they need to evolve to be effective in the digital age. While great headlines, succinct messages, and compelling calls to action are just as important to the success of your media releases as ever, you have to go beyond that to stand out. That means not only taking the time to really understand who your audience is, but also what other information you can share in the form compelling content assets as well as how to best reach that audience to ensure that your message gets heard.

Knowing Your Audience

The first step to getting the most out of your press releases is becoming sharply focused about who specifically you want to read them so that you can target the messages and assets they contain appropriately. After all, even the most newsworthy messages won’t have the desired impact unless they are crafted to resonate with a specific target audience. Determining whether the language and images that you use to create your releases are formal or informal, for example, can shape how well specific audiences respond to them.

Here again it’s important to bear in mind that your audience can often extend well beyond just journalists, underscoring the need to ensure that your messaging, images, and other content assets are designed with them in mind. In some cases, you may actually find that you need multiple releases to target multiple audiences. A toy company, for example, might consider issuing two separate releases when launching a new product: one for the mothers who will buy it for their children and another for the mommy bloggers who will write about the new toy and ultimately influence purchasing decisions.

Once you have that understanding of your audience, you need to apply it when deciding what components to include in your press releases and how to distribute them.

These days press releases are also an effective way to reach a much broader audience that includes influencers, consumers, investors, analysts, and prospects.

These high-resolution components not only provided the media with visuals that facilitated fast-breaking story coverage, but also helped ensure that journalists clearly understood CVS’s message and motivations.

...even the most newsworthy messages won’t have the desired impact unless they are crafted to resonate with a specific target audience.

Bringing Your Releases to Life with Multimedia Components

Incorporating even simple multimedia components into your press releases can make a dramatic difference in terms of their effectiveness. The key is knowing which ones to include to reach your particular audience. In most cases, an effective approach is to take advantage of the power of visual storytelling by using:

Whether they are headshots of the spokespeople quoted in your release or pictures of your latest products, photos are among the most effective ways to drive engagement because they give audiences something far more powerful than words to connect with. They also help personify your messages, which can go a long way toward ensuring that your audience identifies with them.

Other Images
Don’t just limit yourself to photos. There are a variety of other images worth including in your press releases, too, such as your company’s logo. You might also consider adding diagrams that show, for example, how a process works, maps to demonstrate the range of business activity or coverage, or infographics that help you bring data to life visually. These elements can be used to not convey useful information to your audience, but also boost brand awareness.

Regardless of whether they are talking heads, b-roll, product information, or commercials, video is perhaps the most effective way to relay your messages in a way that will engage your audience. When you also factor in that virtually every audience is consuming more and more video (and why YouTube can be considered the second largest search engine in the world after Google) it makes a compelling case for why including a video into your release will help it get discovered.

All of these assets can be embedded into your press releases as well as housed on separate microsites built to support your campaigns. Although creating them is an extra step, doing so can have a dramatic effect in terms of increasing the visibility of your release.Make your story stand out and build deeper connections with your audiences by promoting multimedia content – videos, photos, infographics and audio clips – proven to increase views by 1.4X with images and 2.8X with videos*.

Importantly, creating different assets like these to support your press releases not only increases interest and engagement, but also makes it easier for journalists and bloggers to accurately relay your messages to the rest of the world. And, if you produce and distribute those assets over time, it can be an effective way to increase the longevity of your story.

Using Distribution Channels Strategically

Once you have a compelling, multimedia release that’s designed to target a very specific audience, it’s important to think about all of the best ways to ensure that your release reaches as many of the right people as possible. That means doing a lot more than just publishing it on your website and pushing it out through a wire service without giving it any thought. Instead, you need to have a carefully defined strategy in place that allows you to:

Tap into social media.While clearly a very effective communications tool, the key to using social media successfully is making sure that you focus your efforts in the right places to get the best result. LinkedIn, YouTube, and Pinterest are all social channels worth considering, but Twitter—the platform most popular among journalists— should really be at the center of your social distribution strategy. In addition to tweeting your press releases yourself, you should also make sure your headline and quotes are a “tweetable” 100 characters or less, and consider embedding tweets into your press releases to help stimulate social sharing. It’s also important to tap into social networks beyond your own to ensure that you are reaching new audiences.

Take advantage of syndication.The beauty of the press release is that it’s an efficient way to get your messages out to many different points at once. Through syndication, for example, you can ensure that your news winds up in all of the right places, including in strategically placed widgets on an array of leading news and industry websites, as well as on a variety of apps that most people are already carrying around on their phones, thus dramatically increases your reach. Just think of the number of company updates you’ve seen on Yahoo! News and you will begin to get a small sense of the potential.

Developing targeted distribution lists.When you distribute your press releases, it’s also important that you pay particular attention to getting them to just the right people. Rather than take a shotgun approach, focus on creating targeted media lists to ensure that your messages reach the journalists who matter most.

By utilizing the tactics above, you can increase the reach of your press releases and help ensure that they have the greatest impact. Without this step, even the best press releases will never live up to their full potential.

Press releases are effective for reaching influencers, consumers, investors, analysts and prospects.

Communicating to Other Audiences

Although the best practices outlined above are media-centric, they can also be adapted and applied for use with the various other audiences that press releases are effective at reaching, including influencers, consumers, investors, analysts, and prospects.

In each case, it’s helpful to build out a targeted list of the specific individuals that you are interested in reaching. Once you have, focus your efforts on tailoring your messages, the multimedia components that you use to support those messages, and your distribution tactics to that audience.

For example, if your goal were to communicate some new research on cloud computing trends, in addition to targeting the media, you might also target specific industry influencers and analysts, develop a couple of multimedia assets that resonate with them, such as an infographic or video, and then focus on distributing your release and supporting content through the channels that those influencers and analysts use most, such as Twitter or email. When you know who your audience is, you will be able to tailor your approach accordingly.

Working with a Partner that Can Help

Press releases remain a critically important way to share messages. And yet, the bar for getting them noticed has risen substantially. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important to invest the time necessary to not only to understand your target audience, but also ensure that your releases contain the right assets and are supported with the right distribution strategy.

Fortunately, PR Newswire can help. It not only allows for the distribution of the multi-media press releases that are so important for differentiating yourself in today’s market, it also has a vast network to support your distribution of them, including more than 700,000 contacts in its global media database, 70,000 followers on Twitter, and more than 10,000 websites in its global syndication network. With those capabilities, it becomes much easier to ensure that your press releases will get the results that you and your clients deserve.

Although misconceptions about press releases still abound, as communications professionals your job is to help set the record straight. Show people how important press releases still are by demonstrating the power of creating one that really stands out because it’s targeted, contains the right multimedia assets, and is backed by a strong distribution plan. To be sure, pulling all of that off is no small feat, but when you work with the right partner it becomes a whole lot easier.


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1. 2013 survey of PR Newswire for Journalists members conducted by a leading professional services firm.

* PR Newswire analysis of 2015 press releases.