Death to the Press Release!

Despite their ubiquity as a marketing tool, press releases are no longer useful.

Despite their ubiquity as a marketing tool, press releases are no longer useful. As it happens, there's a much better way to get the word out about your work.

I joined a community of high-achieving tech professionals called On Deck about a year ago. They were all people who were exploring their next career moves. Some had started and sold startups, and others were executives at big tech companies or high-flying brands. But at the time I joined, they were all looking to start their next company.

Members of the On Deck community are encouraged to help each other out by sharing their expertise and advice. I was inspired by this ethos, so I eagerly participated by answering questions about getting press coverage for startups. Other participants had many questions on this topic, so it was a great opportunity to help out and share my knowledge.

As someone who has been building a startup in this space for two years, I was able to help other founders. We would talk on the phone and I would answer their questions and give them advice. One question that came up a lot was whether or not they should issue a press release.

Not so long ago, issuing a press release was a good way to get the word out about your story. You would issue a statement, have it distributed to the right people, and then get coverage in some press outlet as a result. However, this is no longer true. In fact, issuing a press release is nothing but a waste of time and money today.

Let’s see why. 

What’s wrong with press releases?

The first press release was written in 1906 by Ivy Lee. He documented the deaths of 50 people in a railroad accident involving the Pennsylvania Railroad. His clear report was published in the New York Times. 

Since then, press releases have become the standard way to share important news and statistics with many journalists at once. This method became popular, and as a result, wire distribution services were created to deliver the news to the right people.

For most of the 20th century, this system worked well. Companies sent their press releases to a wire distribution service, and then reporters would reach out for a comment. Usually, they would get one. The story would be published, and everyone was happy.

Then, the world changed. The internet and social media gave more people the ability to share their thoughts directly with a broader audience, and journalists no longer had to rely on press releases to find interesting stories. Stories unfolded in real time and had never been easier to find. All of a sudden, press releases had become obsolete.

The media has changed over time, but the public relations world has not. If you go to a wire distribution service website, you will see a lot of stories that are published. Most of these stories follow the same format: where it happened, when it happened, and what the news is in the first sentence. The rest of the story is usually about why it matters and includes a quote from someone in the organization. However, this format is really boring and it's hard for reporters to get through all of them because they usually receive over 400 emails per day. In fact, I have never spoken with any journalists who even read or care about press releases.

Creators like podcasters, YouTubers and writers don't use wire distribution services. They find their stories on Twitter. If they see something that interests them, the founder of the company is usually just a direct message or email away. Plus, they're more than happy to talk about their company, especially if the creator already has a large audience.

Why do people use wire distribution services to send out their press releases? Even if no one reads them, the service can still automatically publish it to an outlet's website. This means that your press release will be printed word for word and published at the very back of the website where no one will see it. It won't contain any backlinks to your website, which won't help your SEO.

Upgrading the press release

There are many other ways to share your announcements than through a press release. The best way to start is by building relationships with the right people ahead of time. If you know some prominent writers or podcasters in your space, follow them on Twitter and engage with their content by commenting on their tweets. If your responses are good, they will likely engage with you, which can spark a conversation. Once you know what they're interested in, you can always post things related to what they're interested in and ask their opinion. They'll probably be more than happy to share some thoughts. Even if they don't follow you back right away, this type of outreach does put you on their radar.

In addition, you can always look for an introduction to relevant journalists and creators. Maybe you have a mutual friend, or they did a story about someone you know. The important thing is to get to know them as people and not ask for a story right away.

You can be helpful to journalists in different ways. You could connect them with a relevant person for a story they're working on, or send them information about topics they're interested in. This will help build the relationship and allow you to send them your news when the time comes.

The best way to announce something important would not be through a press release. You can write a blog post about it instead. This will let you email people a link to the blog post, and you can also use the blog post to share the news on social media. When you do this, you should tag relevant people in the comments section. This is more likely to get their attention than sending them a press release.

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