It’s time for news release 2.0

As I finish my first semester in Centennial College’s Corporate Communications and PR Program, the thing that strikes me the most is the fact that one of the industry’s core tools is absurdly behind the times: the good, old-fashioned press release.

My teachers have said repeatedly that we should refer to it as a “news release,” since not all journalists work in print media. But of course, there’s a more obvious reason:

Nobody uses old-timey printing presses anymore.

I’ve italicized this point because it goes right to the heart of my beef with press releases. My feeling is that any release that consists entirely of plain text should be referred to as a “press” release–because much like those old printing presses, it has no place in the 21st century.

File:Metal movable type.jpg

Image Credit: Willi Heidelbach via Wikipedia.org

Seriously, folks. The internet is not some new-fangled fad that the kids are playing with these days. Heck, “press” releases these days are distributed via a news “wire” that’s actually internet-based. Yet a completely unacceptable number of these releases are still formatted as though they’re being tapped out over a telegraph line–no links, no photos, no videos–just plain, old text.

So why is it unacceptable? Well, consider the findings from this analysis by PR Newswire and CrowdFactory:

Adding a photo to a press release increases engagement by 14 percent; adding a video and a photo actually doubles the engagement rate. Press releases that contain photos, video and audio generate the most engagement, with 3.5 times more engagement than text-only releases.

Now of course this study was looking at sharing of news releases on social media, rather than engagement with journalists. But even if you don’t think social media engagement has much value, do you really think that time-strapped journalists aren’t going to appreciate a release that provides them with ample resources for their story with just a few clicks of their mouse?

I suppose the industry’s lethargy on this issue shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. After all, just about everyone above the junior level graduated high school (and perhaps even university) before the dot-com bubble started swelling. And I suppose there isn’t that much incentive for a senior-level PR professional to get acquainted with the new tools of the digital age, since they have lots of kids like yours truly who can do it for them. But taking this approach does have some serious implications. Arik Hanson over at ragan.com summed it up nicely:

Kids may be leading your social media work… I’m not saying the junior-level folks are incapable of strategic thought. Like I said, they’re smart as hell in some cases. But, they’re also inexperienced.

Forgive my impudence, PR execs, but relying on “kids” for something so important to your business seems… <ahem>… unwise. I understand that all of this social/digital media stuff is overwhelming to a lot of upper-level professionals, but it’s not going to go away. So I’m going to go ahead and make a bold statement:

If you’re in PR, and you don’t know how to embed a hyperlink, you have a problem.

(And if you don’t know what “embed a hyperlink” means, you have a serious problem.)

Come on, kids. It’s 2013. The World Wide Web is almost as old as some of your employees. It’s time for news release 2.0 to become the norm.

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