Head to Head: Is the press release dead?

In this new series, Mumbrella invites the industry's most senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry's biggest issues. This week's Head to Head pits Roberto Pace, managing director, Eleven and FleishmanHillard against Sarah Gale, managing director, AMPR.

This week, debating whether or not the press release is dead, Sarah Gale says they remain an important communications tool while Roberto Pace believes they’ve become like zombies and need reinventing.

Is the press release dead?

Yes, argues Roberto Pace, managing director, Eleven and FleishmanHillard:

I may be too far into The Walking Dead, but the press release feels a bit like a zombie.

It’s still there. Just. It ‘lives’ among us, but we’re running from it … or towards it with an axe brandished, for the brave.

PRs write them up and send them off, knowing that it’s probably the pitch that accompanies the release or just a simple statement via email that’s doing the hard yards. And yet, press releases often take a good while to craft. All to get looked at briefly – if at all, I’m betting.

Pace: “Let’s do less-press-release from the past and more storytelling for the future”

So why is the press release still lurking about?

We still need some way to tell a story, factual or otherwise … and breaking a routine can be tough.

So don’t kill it. Just make the press release better. Think less zombie extra and more Taylor Swift comeback. New, improved and ready to prove you wrong. Let’s keep the best of the press release – the fundamentals of how a story is told – but swap out the dry format with the stuff that works for modern-day journos … and audiences, given we engage with them directly.

The truth is, we’re already doing it.

‘Press Release: The Sequel’ is here through social newsrooms, branded content, influencers and more.

We’re getting the message out with the same fundamentals a guy called Ivy Lee gave us 100 years ago when he (arguably) wrote the first press release, but fit for the time-poor masses, media included.

So let’s do less press release from the past and more storytelling for the future.

No, argues Sarah Gale, managing director, AMPR:

Like just about everything else in the communications industry, the role and format of the press release has changed. What was once a PR staple, scrupulously faxed off to newsrooms to flog just about anything, now serves a more strategic and functional role.

Today, a successful pitch relies on strong relationships. PRs need to understand both the news outlet’s audience and individual journalist’s style to deliver a personalised a pitch that is relevant to them – and to ensure a good ‘news’ hook.

As part of this pitch, the press release and its related video news release still play a very important role in the communications mix and, I believe, always will.

Gale: “When writing a press release, it is vitally important to remember to write the release for the journo not the client”

A press release provides a platform to concisely articulate key brand messages and confirm material information to ensure that what you have pitched to the journo is supported by consistent and accurate facts. It is also an essential tool when communicating an important announcement, new product or service en-masse.

Write the release for the journo not the client – it is a resource to help journos do their job, not to make the brand or client feel good about themselves. Provide supporting information, images, video links and quotes, keeping it brief and to the point. Above all, the press release must be supported by factual data because, as Paul Barry on ABC’s Media Watch frequently points out, over-worked and under-resourced journos will often run a press release verbatim as news. And remember the number one rule – grab their attention in the heading/ subject line. This is your sales pitch in 20 characters!

An example of how a press release can be used is a recent campaign we worked on for Drinkwise, an independent, not-for-profit organisation whose primary focus is to help bring about a healthier and safer drinking culture in Australia. Drinkwise was releasing a research report detailing how Australians’ drinking behaviours have changed. Our strategy involved individually pitching exclusive angles to various national broadcast and print outlets and facilitating interviews with ’real people’ to support the findings as well as Drinkwise spokespeople. Critical to the campaign was to support each pitch with the press release to ensure that everyone had the correct facts, quotes and data required to support the story. Once the exclusives had gone live, the press release was then sent out to a national distribution list. This approach generated over 570 pieces of positive press coverage in 24 hours, reaching more than 2.5 million people.


  • As told to Abigail Dawson. If you’re a senior PR professional who would like to take part in a future Head to Head, please email abigail@mumbrella.com.au

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