Tom Foremski’s this-can’t-go-on wail reads as powerfully as a Martin Luther deconstruction of one of the central pillars of the public relations industry.
“I’ve been telling the PR industry for some time now that things cannot go along as they are,” Tom wrote, “business as usual while mainstream media goes to hell in a hand basket.”
There is no point, he says, in writing slabs of text in journalese, and sending them to journalists when the traditional newspaper industry is dying and the news landscape is undergoing a digital revolution whether it likes it or not, Tom argued.
He’s right. The future is the message being shaped as web content and as social media conversation that has to be two-way and authentic, fun and interesting. Public relations people, no, communications people need to realise this if they are to still be relevant.
But that’s not to say that the press release is dead overnight. It’ll be here but diminishing.
Twelve months ago at an LGComms event I pointed to Tom’s post in a presentation and explained why this was something people needed to know. For five years I’ve been pointing to rapid change from my very small corner of the digital allotment.
Other louder voices have seen what I’ve seen too.
Government director of communications Alex Aiken made a similar point although more forcefully in a speech to the PRCA conference reported by PR Week.
Ashley Brown, Coca Cola’s global director for social media and digital communications, recently talked about the wish to end not just the press release but the corporate website too.
“For the first time ever, our PR teams are being asked to think beyond a press release or beyond a toolkit or beyond a launch package. They had to think: ‘Wow, what is a two-minute really high quality video that someone would really want to share with the friends?’”
“We’re finally breaking the last connections to the corporate website. I think the corporate website is over. I think it’s dead. I think everyone needs to start thinking beyond it. How can you turn it into a media property and hopefully the age of press release pr is over as well.
“I’m on a mission. If there’s one thing I do it’s to kill the press release. We have a commitment to reduce the number of press releases by half by the end of this year. I want them gone entirely by 2015. That’s our goal.”
That’s fine for Coke. But how easy is it if you work somewhere else?
Actually, press release murder is a pretty tricky subject to raise amongst comms people. It’s akin to telling people the skills they’ve spent a career crafting are now not so important. It’s telling a room full of sailors to put down their reef knot and lore and learn how to service an outboard motor. PR people are often former journalists who have in any event spent years as juniors crafting the ability to write press releases. Every word is pored over and shaped by committee. That control gives power. To attack the use of the press release is to launch a personal attack on the career history of PR people.
In the UK, the Government Digital Service published a fascinating study – the half life of news – of more than 600 press releases on gov.uk that looked at the traffic they got. Many spike quickly then fade like digital chip paper.
But if the battle is to be won it’s probably not the revolutionary cry of ‘Die, press release!’ that will win in it. It’s not even a study of how effective the numbers are in getting a story across that will lead the victory, although that will be important. It’ll actually be you, me and the people you went to school with who vote with their feet and share the sharable content.
There is nothing so boring, I’ve heard it said, as the future of news debate amongst journalists because what they say will have no bearing whatsoever on what the outcome will be.
It’ll be things like Oreo’s mugging of the Superbowl with an image of a biscuit created on the spot and tweeted and Facebooked within minutes to take advantage of a powercut. It wasn’t the lavish TV ads that was talked about. It was the real time marketing team who made the sharable image and the 15,000 retweets and 20,000 likes it achieved.
What’s real time marketing? It’s people making content that capitalises on real time events. Look it up. You’ll need to know it.
All this is why I’m finding communications utterly fascinating right now.
And you have to ask yourself the question, if you are not thinking of what post-press release life looks like now, what will you be doing in five years?
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