Press releases are curious things. At least according to Google. There are 1.3 billion search queries in a clean search (incognito) on Google. If you’re “feeling lucky” as Google suggests, you might find out what they are or how they can be used. Instead of testing your luck on Google, we’re going to break down press releases for you here in the PRWeb Learning Center.
According to Wikipedia, “A press release, news release, media release, press statement or video release is a written or recorded communication directed at members of the news media for the purpose of announcing something ostensibly newsworthy.”
Bill Stoller, @PublicityGuru on Twitter, gives us a simplified definition on his site, the Publicity Insider, “A press release is pseudo-news story, written in third person, that seeks to demonstrate to an editor or reporter the newsworthiness of a particular person, event, service or product.”
PR News, in a blog post for small business, breaks it down further by writing, “A press release is really just another term for (hopefully intriguing) content, and as a small business communicator, it’s your job to make every word count.”
All of these definitions are technically accurate, but what’s interesting about them is that the order reflected above, is indicative of how press releases have changed. From a communication medium directed at the news media, as Wikipedia notes, to another tool for content marketing as PR News, a trade publication for the PR industry wrote.
The first recognized press release was created by Ivy Lee, who was widely considered the founder of modern public relations in the early 1900s. In a post marking the press release’s 100th birthday for Search Engine Land in 2006, Greg Jarboe, a recognized expert on both search and PR, wrote the following:
“On October 28, 1906, at least 50 people lost their lives when a three-car train of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s newly equipped electric service jumped a trestle at Atlantic City, NJ, and plunged into the Thoroughfare creek.
That afternoon, Ivy Lee, who some consider to be the father of modern PR, created the first press release. The Pennsylvania Railroad was one of his clients. Following the accident, Lee not only convinced the railroad to distribute a public statement, he also convinced them to provide a special train to get reporters to the scene of the accident.
The New York Times was so impressed with this innovative approach to corporate communications that it printed the first press release—verbatim—on Oct. 30, 1906 as a “Statement from the Road.” In the weeks that followed, both newspapers and public officials effusively praised Pennsylvania Railroad for its openness and honesty.”
In a phrase: press releases aren’t just for the media anymore. Under traditional definitions and practice, press releases were a formal document designed to communicate to the public through the media. Releases were rarely seen by the public – rather the output of the press release was shown in the form of news coverage.
Though there are still a number of old school PR pros that can remember mailing or faxing press releases, for the most part, the web changed the paradigm. Press releases published on the web allowed organizations to communicate directly with their audiences, be that consumers, other businesses, or investors.
In fact, PRWeb was quick to seize on this idea, and one of the key points of differentiating from traditional press release distribution services is that PRWeb was designed for the web, rather than being built on a proprietary network designed to deliver news to a newsroom. PRWeb pioneered the concept of direct-to-consumer news.
As the technology for web publishing has grown, so too has the ability to include multimedia content along with a release. No longer are releases relegated to just static text, rather releases can include pictures – a 1,000 words – and video. In fact, primary research by PRWeb indicates releases that include multimedia can increase time on page by as much as 30 seconds – which is an amazing period of time on the web.
Within public relations circles, press releases can ignite a fiery debate. PR pros tend to have pretty strong views over whether it should be called a press release, a news release or a media release, for example.
The advent of social media has entered a new term into the lexicon: social media release, which came with a new prescription for formatting. The new format earned a lot of buzz a few years ago, but hasn’t seemed to gain traction beyond that initial burst.
Using the words media or news instead of press, critics say, is a more accurate reflection of a modern document. The word press literally means print, as in the printing press, and since the modern reporter may use a variety of mediums aside from the printed form news or media are better choices.
However, it could also be argued that since releases are not just for the media anymore, none of these adjectives work. It might be that just release, or web release or PRWeb release work equally as well.
Outside of PR circles, what we call it matters less to us, except for using a common term that our customers and prospects understand. As a result, we tend to use the phrases press releases and news releases interchangeably on PRWeb’s own publishing platforms. In fact, we use a mix deliberately in order to capture relevant search traffic.
There are a lot of resources on PRWeb’s learning center, including a press release grader for our customers. However, the most important factors boil down to a handful of fundamentals:
1. Focus on good, clean writing. Writing with clarity and for readability tops the list. There’s a lot of advice online about writing for press releases, such as how formal or informal the document should read, but time and time again, releases that perform well are written so the reader can understand.
2. Headlines and subheads matter. Headlines for press releases, just like the headline of a blog post, or the subject line of an email should draw a reader in and invite them to read more. A common question is should we write headlines for search engines or people? The answer: people. People are the intended audiences, search engines are just one means to help them find your content. If it makes sense in context, sure add your key words to the headline, but don’t write a headline just to fit in your key words.
3. Hyperlinks. A well optimized release will hyperlink key words. For PRWeb, we might hyperlink phrases like “news release” or “press release” and link back to our home page at www.prweb.com.