News releases still matter and three reasons you should care

I was going through a file recently after moving into a new home with my family. It was one of those files that was stuck in a box that was not labeled and that I had not opened in probably 10 years. The file was labeled, “Internet PR.”

File Folders

As I glanced at the clippings I’d saved and notes I’d written a decade ago, I realized I should have written “new media.” Or maybe “social media.” But, then again, Internet PR seems to be a better way of describing how we are using internet technology. It’s a tool to help all of us be successful at public outreach and communications – what I call, PR.

Even more revealing than the file label were the articles that talked about the demise of the news release. Yes, a decade ago and probably even before there were fax machines that left that roll-y paper-like stuff strewn all over newsroom floors, people in our business were debating the future of news releases. Yet, we still send them out to our media contacts. At AASHTO, we are subscribed to every state DOT newsroom feed and we get hundreds of news releases in our news release inbox every day. Some are simple, “the road is closed” or “the road is open” messages. Some are difficult announcements of tolling increases or political and policy decisions.

A good friend of mine in the industry recently told me about a special promotion his agency launched, but the agency chose to use Twitter instead of a news release to alert reporters. The story was about a new mobile phone application and the media jumped all over it. A few days later the official news release was sent out with a more formal announcement about the new app. It was the right move at the right time and it hit the audience he wanted perfectly.

But I think news releases still serve a purpose and I do not think they are going away any time soon. In fact, they might be the first best step in a well thought-out communication program – even if you decide never to send it out. Here are three reasons why news releases still matter in a social media world:

  1. A news release makes you get your story straight. I once worked with an IT guy who said that if you can’t draw the problem on the chalkboard (yes, I’m that old), you didn’t know what you were talking about. I think the same thing about a news release. If you can’t write out your story, you probably don’t know what you’re selling and you definitely don’t know your key messages. Write it down.
  2. A news release gives you something the bosses can approve. In our business, the client is some times the transportation secretary, the chief engineer, the program manager or partnering sister agencies. The only way to get everyone to agree on the messages and the story is to send around a news release.
  3. A news release gives you content that you can use everywhere. Since the news release content is already approved by the clients, you should be free to use it for your Facebook content, mobile application, web site introduction or project web page, media talking points, Twitter feed. Wherever and however the issue leads you the news release – once approved – has given you the foundation upon which you can build everything else.

My friend with the new app showed that there are variations on this and that you can live in a world with the news release as a secondary tool. But I would submit that he and his team are top-notch professionals who have learned their craft so well that they can color outside the lines and still make a beautiful picture. It worked, but for specific reasons and only because they had carefully thought out the scenario that made sense for their campaign.

For most of us, whether we live in world of Internet PR, new media, social media or print – the news release still sells. Celebrate its simplicity and build your campaign upon it.

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

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