Following is a great example from Vocus (a leader in on-demand software for public relations). In a nutshell, it summarizes perfectly our shared observation of today’s “press release.” These company “stories” are not just summaries that are sent to news reporters to help generate articles or media coverage… rather, they are effectively being used to bridge together media affairs messaging across entire sales channels, including online and direct touch point marketing. The press release is more powerful than ever (when used beyond the newsroom and in a direct medium that touches consumers directly, meshes with online SEO and complements overall marketing strategies).
The Changing Face of the Press Release
According to the Executive Summary of a study conducted by Fellows of the Society for New Communications Research and made possible by Vocus, the advent of new online communication channels, the goals, target audiences, and overall scope of press releases have transformed press releases themselves into a new communication tool used by public relations and marketing professionals alike.
The respondents’ top goals for online press releases indicated that the traditional goals of increasing an organization’s visibility and credibility and announcing news are now almost equally as important as new goals that include reaching customers directly, creating online content, and search engine optimization (SEO).
While PR professionals placed more importance on traditional goals such as announcing news and enhancing thought leadership, marketing professionals reported SEO and reaching consumers as important goals for their online press releases. Small business owners were concerned with using the release as a sales tool and reaching customers directly.
Both traditional media and new media emerged as the top two most important audiences respondents hoped to reach with their online press releases. Bloggers and new media followed traditional media in importance, but were a very close second, separated by only 0.28 points on a 1-5 scale.
In terms of target audiences for online press releases, significant differences emerged between marketing and public relations professionals. Although both marketing and public relations professionals reported more than average importance for reaching traditional media, consumers, and webmasters that will repurpose the release, PR professionals were consistently more interested than marketing professionals in reaching traditional media.
Marketing professionals were consistently more interested than PR practitioners in reaching new media or consumers directly. For example:
PR professionals rated the importance of reaching traditional media an average 4.53 on a 1-5 scale, which is significantly higher than marketing professionals’ rating of 3.82
Similarly, marketing professionals rated the importance of reaching webmasters with an average 3.49 on a 1-5 scale, which is significantly higher than PR practitioners’ rating of only 2.83
These results indicate that online press releases have been adopted as a communications tool by the marketing profession, says the report, but are being used very differently than they have traditionally been used by public relations professionals.
The most frequently mentioned criterion for evaluating the success of online press releases was:
The number of times the release has been republished on websites (79.6 percent)
The number of times the release has been viewed online (76.8 percent)
An article based on the release (75.4 percent)
Media interview requests as a result of the release (74.2 percent)
Interestingly, although marketing and public relations professionals seem to use online press releases differently, there were no statistically significant differences between the two in terms of the criteria they use for evaluating success. In fact, the evaluation criteria were homogenous across different size organizations and industry sectors as well. The only statistically significant difference identified young communication practitioners (under 30 years of age) as more interested than the other age groups in obtaining coverage on blogs and social media sites.
Open-ended responses to a different survey question indicate that higher level indicators such as “eyeballs” and “dollar value” are desired evaluation criteria of online press releases, but communication professionals do not know how to measure them, concludes the study.
Very few respondents indicated using social media release formats (26.3 percent) and even fewer reported adding video (12.8 percent) or audio (9 percent) enhancements. Of all multimedia elements, photos were the most popular, used in online press releases by 49.5 percent of respondents. Even more puzzling is that less than half of respondents (48.8 percent) link to their own press releases after they have been posted online.
The most frequently mentioned challenges of online press releases, grouped into categories according to the main themes, were:
Cutting through the clutter. This challenge speaks to the difficulty of getting a press release noticed in an information-rich environment.
Targeting and distribution. Respondents often find it difficult to identify and target the specific audience for their press releases.
Measurement. Accurate evaluation of online press release results to include not only message distribution and exposure, but also evidence of audience receipt and behavior change was another perceived challenge.